Are You Smarter Than a 12th Grader?

June 13, 2008

The latest thing in humanities education in Indiana is a new high school social studies course called Geography and History of the World. Introduced a couple of years ago, the curriculum is going to be mandatory for students graduating in 2011, unless they take World History and Civilization.

Geography and History of the World begins with the Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, Indus, and Huang Ho/Yellow Rivers (3300–500 B.C.E.) and ends with global climate change (the present). In between are such rich and substantive questions as: What are culture hearths? How are national identities and forms of government affected by world religions? How have the functions of cities changed over time? How do innovative art forms and scientific thought spread from their origins to other world regions? What has been the impact of changing global patterns of trade and commerce on the local community? And believe me, there’s a lot more.

Last summer a few workshops were offered by universities for teachers of this new course, and they were packed. Here’s the kicker: there is no textbook.

Will this ambitious program work in real life schools? We can only wait and see. But the intent is clear, and it has to do with turning Hoosiers into global citizens who are literate in the humanities.

This entry was posted by: Nancy


  1. I think the idea of a course without a textbook can be a great one. I taught world literature without a textbook for two years and loved it. So did my kids since they didn’t have to lug a huge book around. I organized the course the way I wanted (I have yet to find a textbook that organizes stories the way I’d like) and taught my kids in tandem with a world history class. We started with ancient works like “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and Egyptian mythology and moved along in time. I think it was great for my kids because we didn’t read a single bit of American lit and only the tiniest bit of British lit (Shakespeare when we hit the Renaissance).

    One unit consisted of Cinderella stories from all over the globe and we looked at how something as simple as a children’s story can reflect the cultural values of a society. My kids probably learned just as much history as they did lit.

    I do miss that course.

  2. Thanks for your comment. My first thought on seeing the syllabus for the course was that I would like to take it. But it is an innovation for our students, as well as our teachers.

  3. This would be poetry in the hands of some teachers; a disaster in the hands of others.

    When I was in high school in South Bend 20+ years ago, I took a social studies course called Current Problems. It was supposed to be about issues in the news. But the teacher was also a city councilman — and he used the semester to teach us how cities function, both politically and sociologically. He taught it all out of his head. It was fascinating and deeply engaging. This fellow was highly qualified to teach this, however. It wouldn’t have worked in the hands of the fellow who taught me World History a few years prior — all he could do was read to us from the textbook.

  4. my World History teacher in high school didn’t use a book and I enjoyed that class so much and did so well, i was his teacher assistant for the next 2 years just so i could be in his class again.

  5. It seems that the combination of geography and history forces the teacher of this course to be creative. For example, under the heading of the impact of urbanization, students are asked to: Compare and contrast Quebec City (French) with Edmonton (English), Canada; Wuhan (industrial) with Beijing (capital), China; Rome (cosmopolitan) with Milan (manufacturing), Italy; Nairobi (interior) with Mombasa (coastal), Kenya. That would take a bit of research and pulling things together. I guess venturing outside the textbook and outside the box are part of the adventure.

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