For our students’ entire lives we have communicated that the reason to learn things is not to fulfill curiosities, but to see where you stack up relative to others. Grades are no longer a proxy for learning, but a lap time determining how well they’re doing at achieving a secure financial future. Under this system, a “B” is genuine cause for distress. A “C” is a disaster that points towards a ruined life.
At the same time, we have made it increasingly difficult to pay for a genuine education. The burden of loans threatens to strangle adult lives before they really begin. It is now impossible to work your way through college. Concerns over even paying for college are also at an all-time high. We communicate that a college degree is more important than ever and then make it more difficult to achieve.
Students look at the larger culture and see not a ladder of opportunity, but a treadmill of obligation. No wonder they’re distressed."
And Elizabeth Smart knocks it so far out of the park, she put a dent in the ISS.
I get why you asked this question, and I get why you framed it the way you have. But I want to take this moment to break down what you’re really asking, here. Let’s take your question on a world tour.
Education in the U.S. (and some other places, too), is incredibly Eurocentric, and most people don’t even know the histories of places other than Europe pre-1500s, and America post-1500s.
This leads to the following assumptions that 1. all history occurred in Europe; 2. Europe was always dominant as a “continent” over all other continents; 3. That people we consider white are a world majority.
Here’s a breakdown of the would population by continent. We know that they are far from racially homogenous, but a re-framing is definitely in order.
Just about 75% of the world’s population lives in Africa and Asia. Notice that’s 60.3% in Asia alone.
As for relative SIZE of continents, a lot of people have really confused ideas about relative sized of continents in relation to each other. A graphic designed by Kai Krause went viral in some parts of the internet a while back, but in case you missed it, here it is:
Here’s the whole thing, which has the original data input the graphic was made from, as well as this image of Europe superimposed on Africa, true to proportion:
The Peters World Map, introduced in the 70s, generated a lot of controversy because it shows the continents in true area and proportion. It can look oddly “squished” to many people used to a different map:
Okay, we’ve discussed the size and proportion of land masses that humans occupy, and relative populousness of those land masses. But what about race? Well, in a lot of ways, the way we construct race is by skin color; dark or light. Here’s a (admittedly super generalizing) map of the world’s human population by approximate skin color. But it helps some people to see it [via Encyclopedia Brittanica]:
Now, the “lightest skin” areas don’t necessarily reflect “white people” as we would think of it. Many East Asians and Indigenous people in the north (Inuit, Saami), have light skin.
There is no way to make an accurate estimate of what percentage of the world’s population now are what race because many, many nations do not take a census that records race. Trying to determine racial demographics from past eras, especially in Medieval or Ancient times when concepts like “white people” did. not. exist. is basically impossible, for all intents and purposes. Some people say that a third of the entire world’s population lived in Europe during say, the Middle Ages…as we can see that doesn’t necessarily mean “white people”. Moreover, what are we basing that on? Do they take Chinese documents into account? What about the documents from the library of Timbuktu, which as far as I know are still being explored, cataloged, and translated?
Let’s revisit the question. "Are there poc from history that weren’t slaves or serv[a]nts?"
Now, let’s flip the question: For the entirety of human history, was the majority of the world’s population subject to a minority of the world’s population?
The answer is, of course, no. The expectation that there would be a finite list of exceptions to enslavement and servitude on the part of ALL people of color for the ENTIRETY of human history is based on our current views of the world, based on what we have been taught, and HOW we have been taught it.
These expectations are shaped by the media we consume and create.
These expectations are created by an education curricula for history that begins in Europe, a Europe that is supposedly isolated geographically and culturally, despite the fact that it isn’t even separated by water from Asia.
American history begins with “first contact” or “discovery”, with almost no mention of the political or social history of the continent before being “discovered”. The terminology used in most books and documentaries is definitively Eurocentric: “We” discovered “The Other”. We divide time and space into “The Old World” and “The New World.” WHO, exactly, was this “world” NEW to?
What I would *love* to see is an analysis of how many classes that use books that DO cover non-European history, SKIP those histories because “there’s no time”. I am in a rather unique position to witness this, and have come to believe that this is a very common practice in American/U.S. classrooms. Because learning the same five things about the Revolutionary War and World War 2 for six years in a row takes precedence over learning even the most basic facts about anything regarding World History. WHY do we learn the same things over and over? WHY do we know what we know? WHO wrote it down and said this is not just truth, but The Truth?
I’m not asking these questions because I know the answers…I don’t, really. I’m asking them because I want this questioning habit to spread as far as it can. This blog covers only the teeniest, tiniest portion of human history! The focus is incredibly narrow, because I am only one person. But look how much can be amassed in terms of knowledge, in terms of forming new questions, just by ONE person! A whole generation of people are becoming adults right now, and they should be full of questions. Who is going to write the history for the generation after this one? Can you do better?
Can we do better?
I believe with all my heart that we can.
Well, speaking to my experiences as a teacher, we do it because our kids can’t even manage to remember those six basic facts and because we get fired if they can’t pass the tests the state hands down to us from above.
I wish teachers would stop getting blamed for this shit. I know the difference and I try my best to insert some reality into the classroom… but it’s a constant balancing act because we *have* to teach to the test. Which asks questions where the desired answer is, as far as I’m concerned is flat out wrong… but are multiple choice.
So do we run the risk of losing our job in order to teach kids a truth that they probably won’t remember anyway?
It’s a tough call — even for people who know better and wish we could educate kids in a wholistic manner.
At least in my district, though, we’re forced to adhere pretty closely to a curriculum, to administer a county-mandated test, and to use county-generated handouts.
So please stop blaming the teachers :( We do try, it’s just a lot to fight against.
I’m not really sure why you think I’m “attacking” teachers. Other than if you, specifically, have skipped the entirety of world history in favor of the same five facts as I outlined above, and even then, I blame the way education is legislated, organized and practiced as an institution in the U.S.. I have written about this extensively, and it’s too bad that this is apparently the only post of mine you’ve seen on education.
I’ve made it clear on multiple occasions just how incredibly limited most American educators are on the materials they’re allowed to teach, and how much pressure is on them to prepare students for standardized testing. It’s a disgrace. A lot of educators whose Ethnic Studies curricula have been pressured out of existence or even banned via legislation have ended up trying to continue these works online, or in alternate venues.
Also, I’m not really sure why you’re blaming the students. Education should NOT be some kind of power struggle or war between students and educators, and I don’t think I’ve framed it that way. That being said, there ARE both teachers and professors who actively perpetuate bigotry and make false statements or claims in regard to race and history, but it’s definitely not a blanket statement or universally the case. Accountability still is necessary, and I DO prioritize student experiences on medievalpoc (including the student experiences of those who are NOW educators themselves!!)
Moreover, have you considered that many students might be resistant to or uninterested in a history that teaches them they were “always slaves”, have “no” history, or “were wiped out by colonists”?? When the materials teach about how various peoples of the world have been subjugated, genocided, enslaved, abused, or colonized, with NO mention of histories BEFORE or AFTER, is it any wonder they would rather forget it?
It makes me genuinely, honestly sad in my bones that your opinion of your students is so low. It’s not surprising that many educators get burned out really, really quickly. But. It makes me wish you could see the feedback I get from my followers; SO many people really ARE interested in history as a discipline, young people, people who like books and movies based on history, people who want to see THEMSELVES in history! I don’t think that is too much to ask.
The state of education in the U.S.: educators and students are mortal enemies with opposite goals.
Once again: WE CAN DO BETTER.
…It is a strange thing about looking into the face of a 15-year-old, to really see who they are. You still see the small child that their mother sees. You see the man or woman they will be before they graduate. They are babies whose innocence you want desperately to protect. They are old enough to know better, even if no one has taught them.
I realized then that some of my kids were genuinely confused. “How can she be raped?” they asked, “She wasn’t awake to say no.” These words out of a full fledged adult would have made me furious. I did get a good few minutes in response on victim blaming and why it is so terrible. But out of the face of a kid who still has baby fat, those words just made me sick. My students are still young enough, that mostly they just spout what they have learned, and they have learned that absent a no, the yes is implied.
It is uncomfortable to think that some of the students you still call babies have the potential to be rapists. It is sickening, it is terrifying, but it is true. It is a reality we have to face. My students have lived in a world for fifteen years where the joke “she probably wanted it” isn’t really a joke, they need to unlearn some lessons that no one will admit to teaching them.
Standing in front of my classroom and stating that a woman’s clothing choice is never permission to rape her should not be a radical act. But only a few heads nodded in agreement. Most were stunned, like this was a completely new thought. The follow up questions were terrifying in their earnestness. “Ms. Norman, you mean a woman walking down the street naked is not her inviting sex? How will I know she wants to have sex?” A surprisingly bold voice came out of a girl in the back “You’ll know when she says, you want to have sex?!”
If you want to keep teens from being rapists, you can no longer assume that they know how. You HAVE to talk about it. There is no longer a choice. It is no longer enough to talk to our kids about the mechanics of sex, it probably never was. We have to talk about consent, what it means, and how you are sure you have it. We have to teach clearly and boldly that consent is (in the words of Dianna E. Anderson) an enthusiastic, unequivocal YES!
What came next, when the idea of a clear yes came up, is the reason I will always choose to teach freshmen. They are still young enough to want to entertain new ideas. When we reversed the conversation from, “well she didn’t say no,” to “she has to say YES!” many of them lit up. “Ms. Norman,” they said, “that does make a lot more sense.” “Ms. Norman,” they exclaimed, “that way leaves a lot less confusion.” When one of the boys asked, well what do you want me to do, get a napkin and make her sign it, about four girls from the back yelled, YEAH!…"
Thanks to my friend Ivy for sharing this with me on Facebook. All of these things, these conversations I did not properly have until I was well into college. Like a lot of people, none of my schools ever properly talked about healthy and respectful sexual encounters and what sexual assault really was. I really wish we’d had conversations like this, though…
watch that little motherfucker who asked about the napkin though…
Now to teach them that after you get a “yes” she’s allowed to change her mind and say “no.” Even if she signed a napkin. Some fuckshit athlete in my freshman year thought of that brilliant “loophole” and went around (half)jokingly asking a bunch of us to sign a paper saying “yes” so he’d have written consent in advance.
So, yeah, teach them to beware that ‘napkin’ kid…
And after THAT teach them that even an enthusiastic “yes!” doesn’t count if she’s under the influence, underage, or you otherwise have a huge degree of power over her life and choices.
And these lessons would all go a lot smoother if, before all this, we taught them that they have an ethical responsibility not to cause someone harm. That it’s really kinda fucked up to approach sex thinking, “what can I get away with?” rather than the sincere desire to not hurt another human being. That you should decline someone’s “yes” if you think having sex with that person, at that time, could cause harm.