This semester I am enrolled in a module which looks at media coverage during times of violence. I have found the first few lecture to be immensely interesting, but the last two weeks I have felt lost. Not because the lecturer is bad, or because the content is boring, but because the violent events being covered are foreign to me. More worryingly, the acts of violence highlighted the past two weeks are not small scale events. Last week we looked at the Northern Ireland conflict and today we covered the Rwandan Genocide. While I have heard of both these conflicts, and know some very basic facts about them, I have felt ashamed in lectures by my lack of overall knowledge.
So who is to blame? Some might say I am. I am not denying that perhaps I could have read history related material, or be more interested in general world history, but to say it is only my fault would be unfair. To me, the fundamental flaw lies is school-taught history. History was one of my favorite subjects at school, and I thus spend a lot of time on the work assigned. I did IB history HL and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yet when I look back, I realize that I actually know very little about the history of the world.
Now I understand that “the history of the world” is one of the broadest terms out there. It spans countless years and hundreds of countries. But I feel that the focus of school-taught history is wrong. At the end of my IB, I could recite the last 10 Tsar’s that ruled Russia and the years they were in power. Yet I was taught nothing of the horrific acts of genocide that happened in Rwanda less than 25 years ago. Which piece of knowledge is more important? What is more beneficial for me to know? For me the answer is easy; I would have rather learned about recent acts of genocide as opposed to knowing empty facts about Russian rulers. One teaches me about the flaws in today’s society and those in power, while the other is something I will probably never refer to again.
Two years ago, during a discussion about the terrible people in the world with two of my friends, I mentioned the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and the horrors that unfolded during the time they ruled. My friends looked at me with slight confusion; they’d never really heard about it before. This baffled me, as Pol Pot and his horrific regime was something extensively covered in my IB history class. I realize now that this is because I lived in Vietnam during that time, and thus this history was much more locally relevant than it would be in the United Kingdom. But this was a regime that killed over a million people, so how can it not be globally significant? I don’t understand how a student can go through school and never learn about modern age genocides. I see a key problem being that school-taught history is often way too localized, leaving students oblivious to the history of most parts of the world.
The Khmer Rouge ruled in the late 1970’s, and the Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994, the year I was born. Yet the way I was taught history made it seem that Hitler and the genocide of the Jews was the most recent, and hopefully last, terrible act of humanity against humanity. I was taught year after year about the Nazi party and their crimes, and believe me, I’m glad I was. In no way am I saying that learning about WW2 is less important that learning about the Rwandan Genocide or the Khmer Rouge because it happened longer ago. What I am saying is that there needs to be a balance. A balance between recent history and older history. History is no less relevant based on when it happened. In my mind, something significant to humanity that happened yesterday is history, and thus should be taught in schools.
Let me know your thoughts, I’m interested to see whether you agree or completely disagree.