Notes From a University Student 4
The registrar, after telling me that the courses I took in middle and high school in Holland didn’t count, had then turned around and given me credit for a few, so in the second summer session I took two history courses, all the courses I needed to have a minor in history.
I couldn’t be a librarian, but after these two five-week courses I could conceivably teach history in high school.
The first course was World History, for 90 minutes a day. World History is also taught in high school here, but you can get around it, and anyway, in high school it’s usually also just one semester.
Since history isn’t taught properly in high school, you have to take it again in college, where it also isn’t taught properly, because how on earth can you teach world history from Mesopotamia to the present in one semester or in a five-week summer course?
It was a whirlwind tour and since I had had a pretty thorough history education from seventh through eleventh grade, most of it wasn’t new, and therefore the few things that were, I could just add to my knowledge, filling the gaps, so to speak. But for the students who knew nothing about history, the course must have been completely useless. The professor had to go through everything so fast, I believe she forgot to mention World War II, and if she did, it was so fleetingly that if you asked any of the students when it took place, most of them would have no clue. More than a few would probably not be able to place it in the right century.
Since the students had absolutely no basic knowledge to build on, the professor included in these already five short weeks a crash course in world geography. Each week we had to memorize the countries of one continent, and also some of the capitals. One student thought that Russia lay to the north of the United States, which, considering the decades-long fear of the Russians being about to attack, isn’t so strange. Everyone must have felt like the Commies were standing at the border. It begs the question, though, where the student then thought that Canada was.
One of the women taking the course practically had me pulling my hair out. Luckily I sat at the back of the class, so I could fume unseen. When the professor asked if anybody knew what the main export article of Argentina was, this woman’s hand shot up. “Australia!” she said proudly. She never did figure out why the years were counted backward before Christ, and she insisted on talking about the Mesotamians, the Romians, and the Axtecs. Once, in her frustration over having to learn the countries, she said that she could never remember whether Paris was the capital of France or of Asia, and who the hell cared?
It was hard to keep in mind that my fellow students were seniors at a university. Also, this course was required for education majors, so these people were at most one year away from being let loose in the school system. Some of them, the above-mentioned woman included, were already teaching through the emergency program.
The final exam consisted of pointing out ten countries on a blank world map and writing one paragraph each about the Middle Ages, Ghandi, and the importance of the steam engine. And that was world history taken care of.
(From a letter in 1996)
The next post in this series is about battling sleep in Mexican History.