I got the rare and soul-saving pleasure of witnessing a student wake up to something the other day.
I’m doing a unit on trade with 7th grade at the moment. This is following study of different religions, different climates and resources, all building to an understanding of culture as mix of various, ever-changing ingredients that are rooted in history and geography combined. They’ve studied the big 5 religions equally and had chances to research and learn about countries all over the world.
Anyway, this day, we were discussing Marco Polo – charting his route from Genoa to Beijing and considering the travails of early travel.
Then we moved on to the Spice trade and who controlled it. I explained that the routes had originally been largely created controlled by Muslim caliphs in the 1100s, before the Europeans developed seafaring technology and took over, even before Marco Polo made his famous trip.
“So, it’s important to remember that Muslims actually did control it from the beginning, and that it wasn’t always dominated by Western Europeans.”
“Well, because sometimes that’s the way the story is told. We’re in Europe and the story gets told from a European point of view – like the Spanish and Portuguese controlled trade from the beginning. And they leave out that the Muslims were doing it first.”
The Egyptian, muslim, girl looks up from her notes.
“Wait, they just leave it out? Why? How?”
“Yes. Because we’re in Europe so they only tell their side. And as Winston Churchill, PM of England during WWII , said, ‘History is written by the winners’. It’s easier to just tell one side, isn’t it?”
“But it’s not true. So how do we know what is true?”
“Well, we don’t. And it’s our job as historians to track down the truth and look for the other side of the story to make sure we’re not missing it.”
And she goes back to her notes.
And her face shows me clearly – she’s been duped and just learned it. She’s just learned that the history of her people, her religion, her culture, gets erased. Possibly on purpose.
I really really hope that that was a seed that turns her from being a bright, driven, student to being a purposeful, intent, adult. Even though she might not even remember it.
And that, that, is what keeps me being a purposeful, intent, adult.