Letter: In praise of moving beyond Eurocentric history education 

February 19, 2024

My historical education has been anchored in Western societies. Most of my classes were based on American history, and conversations about foreign cultures included comparisons to America. Even in middle school, words like “barbaric” and “primitive” were used when learning about Native American groups. As history lessons become nuanced, wars have been framed with the mindset of America “saving the day!” What’s more, African culture, in the few and far between lessons, is diminished. 

I have been taught through a Eurocentric lens. The term “Eurocentrism” entails that European white cultures are superior. Eurocentrism implies that outside groups of people don’t live their culture by choice and need to be “saved.” This incomplete view of history has allowed many misconceptions to thrive. For instance, while many think that Native American societies were unstructured, the reality is that these groups were complex, with self-governance and religious hierarchy. Many also believe that all Native American societies are identical. This is entirely untrue, but with the way we teach about these societies, you would never know it.  

Why do we put effort into teaching American history accurately and not others? Sure, we don’t have much documentation from early societies, but we know these misconceptions are untrue, yet they are still taught in schools. Why, when we preach about eliminating discrimination and racism, do we not show the same grace to ancient civilizations?  

The fact that most courses offered in high schools focus on Western culture suggests that other cultures aren’t worth learning about in education beyond middle school. These limited scopes of history classes prevent many from seeing their cultural heritage represented and reinforce a racial hierarchy in education. By changing the history curriculum, we can break down discrimination. 

A study at UC Berkeley found that education can eliminate prejudice starting at a young age. This means introducing more courses about South America, Africa, Southern Asia, and the Middle East. And not just about the Silk Road but meaningful stories about the minority perspective and modern societies expanded into high school and the AP level. Many students in this district would love these courses to be offered. It would be a step in the right direction toward a more inclusive historical education.  

As we shift the tone of lessons, we must name the Eurocentric prejudice we carry. Challenging our idea of a “perfect” society creates academically enriching conversations, preparing students to become productive members of a diverse society. By learning to respect the history of cultures other than ours, we break the Eurocentric mindset that prevents us from appreciating and respecting diversity in our community.  

Sarah Kiefer 

Concord-Carlisle Class of 2024