NGUYEN: Apply Euro standards to ethnic courses




The last name Smith is a common name that comes from the occupational name of a blacksmith. The last name Nguyen (how do you pronounce that again?) is derived from the last name of the last Vietnamese emperor who forced a large amount of the Vietnamese population to assume his last name under his regime. Both common knowledge, right?  

To me, history courses have always resembled the Easter-egg-hunts I was coerced into for the better part of my childhood. Year after year, the tradition kept. The eggs from the past year were always recycled for that year’s festivities (accounting for the loss of about three eggs each year) and I always sought the one particular cheetah-printed egg. 

Year after year, the curriculum that I thought I learned the year before reemerges like the decrepit Easter eggs that my mom refused to throw away. Every year I am simply seeing the same pieces of history from a slightly different angle. Each shift in perspective threatens my accessibility to a culture that will inevitably drift into the abyss. Egypt? Haven’t heard of her since the sixth grade. 

As for the cheetah-printed egg, the object of desire seems to almost always be the undefeated victor — the Western world. 

Where AP European History and AP US History have dominated the history curriculum at RHS, each cumulatively spanning about a semester’s worth of material.  AP Asian History, AP African History, AP Anything Other Than Euro-centric History — nonexistent. This is true on a national level as well.

Single units from Pre-AP Geography and Pre-AP English 9 have clawed their way into existence in order to represent different cultures. In reality, this was the last opportunity to learn about cultures outside of the Western hemisphere, and even then the course was extremely broad, lacking the intricacies that AP European was able to cover. Even the class called “World Studies” was able to gloss over what wasn’t Euro-centric and became a false label for what was basically “European History.” The consequence of attempting to cover so many topics in a single class is that all of them inevitably fall short. 

Countries with rich histories have been assigned to their respective cells in our version of history for so long. Vietnam is synonymous with The War, China with the Silk Road, and Africa with Imperialism. The trend? All of these snapshots deal only with interactions with Western cultures.  Each one flits through our curriculum with a fervor reserved for something temporary, and disappears into the periphery of Western culture just as quickly. 

However, next year Ethnic Studies will join the course catalog. Next year, hundreds of RHS students will have the opportunity to learn about their family’s history outside of dinner-table conversation. Next year, students may finally be able to have nuanced conversation about their culture from a perspective outside of America’s. 

This is a large step in what is hopefully an expanding direction. However, even with this new course on campus, one semester for an all-encompassing class about so many different cultures is ambitious. I hope that this development will segway into opportunities for more classes that will provide just as much depth as AP European History of AP US History. 

At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is this: roses are red, violets are blue. People ask me if I’m a communist, but I can tell you all about the 1851 French coup.