This week’s trauma is the AP World History test, which merely requires students to know everything that ever happened in the history of the entire world.
The kids don’t have to make sense of what happened, or draw any broad conclusions. The kids are not expected to see the history of the world as something that has any meaning whatsoever. But they dang sure better know about the Solomonic Dynasty in Ethiopia, and the Delhi Sultanate’s annexation of Gujarat, not to mention the Qing Conquest of Turkestan. (Actually that’s probably not going to be on the test, so if you’re a student and you’re reading this, ignore those terms. But remember the Treaty of Augsberg.)
The modern teaching orthodoxy follows the pole star of historical egalitarianism, which means you have to learn everything about everyone and can’t play favorites geographically or politically or culturally. Even within a culture or place you can’t play favorites: Social history means you must learn about the lives of ordinary people as well as the machinations of kings and mandarins.
The result is a firehose of data. You can’t possibly drink it all in. You can’t differentiate the one thing from the other thing. All you can possibly do is memorize a giant list of people, places, wars, religions, technologies, all glommed together in a colossal mish-mash labeled World History.
So let me get started here on a cheat sheet that lets you know what really happened:
Hunters and gatherers discovered that if they stopped hunting and gathering and grew crops instead, more people could live far more difficult lives.
Men developed weapons and behaved badly.
The Greeks developed philosophy, democracy, toga parties, the Olympics, and an awesome salad.
The Romans built roads and aqueducts and coliseums and had a huge empire and threw Christians to the lions but then adopted Christianity as the official religion, which was like IBM adopting Microsoft.
The barbarians kept sacking Rome. Other cities got invaded, conquered, destroyed, but only Rome was allowed to be “sacked.”
Exotic things happened in “the East.”
Explorers sailed around the world and spread their germs to people who had no idea what hit them.
People dug up coal and burned it.
Everyone decided they wanted more of everything, and we bulked up.
Women did the drudge work until feminism showed up around 1964, after which they went to the office AND did the drudge work.
Obviously this list needs some work and I’ve left out some things. But in my defense: Part of being a responsible purveyor of knowledge is knowing what to exclude. Like the entire 8th century: Fuggedaboutit.