Eurocentrism in American Public Education

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RYAN GAPP | THE SPECTRUM
RYAN GAPP | THE SPECTRUM

Of the injustices left to be addressed in our country, one of the worst relates to the state of education. Elementary, middle and high schools and even institutions of higher education disproportionately promote the worldview developed by Western civilization, a practice known as Eurocentric education.  Evident everywhere, though particularly in the humanities, Eurocentrism is a central problem in American schools. It’s ethically wrong to only present information that’s been treated by a Western lens and doing so results in tragic social consequences.

A Eurocentric curriculum, the kind seen in almost all schools in the United States, focuses on the ideas and achievements of Western cultures, including Europe and the English-speaking world. It ultimately stems from an underlying sense of European exceptionalism, a notion adopted by students and then passed on in a perpetual cycle.

The European focus is most apparent in the teaching of history, which is generally done with special attention given to Europe and its interactions with the rest of the world. From Spain’s discovery and colonization of Latin America, to the West’s involvement in the Opium Wars in China, to the conquest of Africa. Europeans are seen as having held the pen that wrote all of history. When they’re presented in this way, these events suggest the rest of the world is less important when viewed alone, that events like the Latin American literary boom or the establishment of a republic in China are of marginal significance since they don’t directly relate to the West’s experience.

In the arts, European and American literature is given special attention. The regular Twain, Poe and Hemingway assignments are often accompanied by translations of Homer, Dumas, Chekov and Kafka in high school English classes. In most cases, little room is made to include writers like Chinua Achebe, Julia Alvarez or Gabriel García Márquez, who are arguably more relevant for 21st century students. Paying excessive attention to the literary achievements of Europeans and Americans leads to the belief that non-Europeans don’t produce intellectual works of the same caliber, which simply isn’t true.

There’s an obvious achievement gap in the United States, and, luckily, only a relatively small group of people believe it’s due to inherent differences in capabilities between races and ethnicity. At the same time though, Eurocentric curricula perpetuate the idea that Westerners are more intelligent, innovative, creative and generally superior to all other people. The effect of this unbalanced depiction is that non-European American students are led to believe they can’t perform at the same level as their peers.

With criticism of affirmative action for the advancement of minorities being widespread, it seems policies that seek to eliminate racial disparities should focus on eradicating the last pro-white institutions before any other steps are taken. It’s worth noting that it may in fact be because of the cycle I described that affirmative action has failed in some areas. The philosophy of education holds the greatest potential. Changing it to promote the success of minority students wouldn’t require distorting facts in order to exaggerate the importance of certain events. The history is already there, and all the reform will follow swiftly when we simply decentralize our worldview.

Broad-based educational plans are becoming more important than ever, and our students are put at a distinct disadvantage by having a European-centered background. In order to cope with shifting demographics in the United States and to be productive in the global economy, students must be able to understand the significance and conditions of the world’s various cultures. All that we’ve been prepared for though is life as peasants on a 14th century farm in England.  I’d say the time has come, but the truth is that a complete restructuring of our educational system is already long overdue.

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