While attending a People of Color Conference (POCC) last year, Upper School History Department Chair Dr. Amy Bresie ‘96 Ph.D and senior Brooke Allen sat amongst their fellow Greenhill faculty members and students. At the conference, the two heard an empowering speech about the importance of diversity being represented in history curriculum.
After the speech, Brooke turned to her teacher and said “Doc, we gotta do something about AX9 and AX10.”
“You’re right,” Dr. Bresie responded.
This was the turning point for Dr. Bresie, as this speech compelled her to initiate the overhaul of the Atlantic Experience 9 (AX9) and Atlantic Experience 10 (AX10) curriculums, something that had been discussed within the history department for years but never materialized until now.
Next year, freshmen will no longer be taking Atlantic Experience 9 (AX9), but instead will be taking Global History, a course that will broaden the curriculum perspective to countries beyond Europe and America.
This overhaul will allow students to understand tensions of the current world through exploration of various countries pasts’, according to Dr. Bresie. For example, the Black Plague, which is currently taught through the lens of Europe in AX9, will now be taught from the perspectives of countries such as China, Africa and India.
“When you just do Atlantic Experience, you don’t get the richness of this full story. We’re trying to broaden the story, and take Europe and America out of the story. Are they important players? Yeah, of course. But there’s a bigger picture, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Dr. Bresie said.
Some physical changes students will see is the removal of the Atlantic Experience textbooks, which will be replaced with new textbooks, one entitled “1493” by Charles C. Mann, and the other entitled “World’s Together, World’s Apart” by Robert Tignor. Additionally, this initiative will eventually lead to the removal of AX10, which will be replaced with an American history course starting in 2019 that all sophomores will be required to take.
“I’ve had several people come talk to me saying they wanted to see themselves reflected in the history curriculum, and so that’s what we’re trying to do…we’re trying to make a curriculum where students can find themselves reflected,” Dr. Bresie said.
Senior Brooke Allen felt that her own identity was lost in the AX9 and AX10 curriculums, and wanted to see this overhaul be brought about.
“I was just kind of upset because it was around the time that we had started learning about the Holocaust in AX10, [which is] my personal history, and then I thought about how other people would feel if you’re just sitting in a classroom for two years that’s not like relevant, not pertinent, to me. It just kind of felt like we were wasting time and that our history curriculum didn’t at all reflect the mission we claim to push forward as a school,” Brooke said.
Additionally, Brooke felt that the AX9 and AX10 courses limited students’ perspectives of the world.
“Social justice work is really important to me and that being so deeply intertwined with history, like the Civil Rights Movement [and] struggles for independence especially in the non-western world, we’re not doing a good job of educating people to be a diverse community of learners like we claim. We’re not doing a good job if we’re not teaching people about that,” Brooke said.
Sophomore Elli Dassopoulos overall enjoyed AX9, but felt that economic diversity was lacking, meaning the AX9 course was limited to the perspectives of wealthier countries.
“Not only is it a Eurocentric history class in that there’s a hyper focus on Western Europe and the United States, but [it’s also a] pretty capitalistic viewing of history,” Elli said.
While this initiative is in part aimed to diversify the content taught in freshmen and sophomore history classes, there are other aspects of the current AX9 and AX10 courses that the history department wants to see be changed.
Upper School History Teacher Dr. Kaaz Naqvi said this overhaul aims to bring about two new major changes. First, the history department wants to create a better cohesion between all of the AX9 classes and all of the AX10 classes.
Dr. Naqvi also said the history department wants an easier-to-follow curriculum that tells a single story instead of pieces of multiple stories, which will be accomplished by separating American history and World history into two distinct classes.
With all of these major changes of the history curriculum transpiring, Upper School History teacher Adrian Martinez said he would like to see Global History have a greater emphasis on skills, meaning a greater emphasis on analytical writing and reading as well as forming strong arguments.
“I do like the emphasis in skills. We’re going to hit primary sources a lot harder and we’re going to hit analysis a lot harder, which I’m in favor of,” he said.
Mr. Martinez feels that the transition to a more skills-heavy freshman history course would be beneficial to students throughout all their years of education, rather than just one year of history.
“If it were up to me, the ninth grade would be more of a geography class instead of history class. I have a somewhat cynical view in that when freshmen leave freshmen year of history, most of the content that they’ve learned is out anyway, they forget it. But the skills stick with you, the skills are transferrable. You can take the [writing and analytical] skills that you learn in a history class and apply them to [other classes], even a science class,” Mr. Martinez said.
According to Dr. Bresie, a good balance between learning history skills and content is key to creating a successful course.
“I think [content] sends a message about who and what we value, I think the things that we choose to cover in a class send a message about what we value and I want to make sure that that message is one that affirms students instead of tearing them down,” said Dr. Bresie.
Graphic by Areeba Amer
Originally published in the February 2018 print issue