Why We Should Teach the American Revolution in Europe

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The signing of Declaration of Independence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“So what do you teach in 8th grade?  Do you teach the revolutions?”

“Yeah, we do the French and Industrial Revolutions.”

“Not the American?”

“Well, we do an investigation on the Boston Massacre.”

“But not on the Revolution?”

“No.  Why would we?  We are a European school.   America is not in Europe.”

The teacher meant no harm.  They were just stating their read on curriculum.  But part of me thought….  do they think that I am so Amero-centric that I would teach the American Revolution simply because I am American?

The beauty (and the curse) of teaching history is that there is so much history to teach…and each year the history of the world gets longer.  History teachers are always discussing what are relevant topics for our kids.   Should we stay in the Western Hemisphere?  Should include Asia because so many of our clientele are from this region?  What do our students need for the Diploma?   What history should we just ignore?

We teach the American Revolution because it is the model, the ground breaker for Revolutions to come.  It is not that the Americans got it goin’ on.  It’s that the ideals that were spawned during this moment, the Enlightenment, were used in future Revolutions.

The American Revolution was the first time a group of people rose up against a powerful European nation and said, “No thanks, we appreciate all your previous support and all, but we think we can do a better job of running this place.”  This group of people created a government system that is still with us today.    Those in Latin America would begin their revolutions forty years later.  They too would look to throw off their European Colonial ties.

The French Intelligencia and the French Court, all loved the ideals of the American Revolution.  And they didn’t just support the Revolution because the Americans were attempting to do what the French hadn’t done successfully in a while…kick some British butt. The French were also excited about the Enlightenment.  They looked to the Americans and supported their fight because they thought it was a grand experiment.  Later, they too would try this experiment, but it would backfire on them.  Some of the court that invited Benjamin Franklin into their folds would later be executed as enemies of the French Revolution.

Then there is the whole reason for the initial violence of French Revolution.  The people of France were starving.  They had no voice in government; they had no advocates to ensure their well being.  And why were they starving?  Because their government was bankrupt, their economy was in a downward spiral.   And why was the country bankrupt?  France went bankrupt while paying for the American Revolution.

So you see the American Revolution wasn’t only about America.  It had everything to do with Europe.

And if you don’t believe me, check out this wonderful article from Vanity Fair.  A. A. Gill’s (British) defense of America, from his book “To America with Love”.

5 replies

  1. Very good point! I think at times it is hard for us to see just how one’s country affects other countries, and conversely, how the overall global climate can also affect one’s home country.

  2. It is really interesting what you say. I went to an International School in Oberursal in the 1980s when I arrived in the 11th grade and coming direct from the UK after my A Levels. I found the atmosphere then so cloyingly American that I think my head would have exploded if I had had to have studied the American Revolution as well. It seems that however the International School system has changed radically and your thoughts on the interconnectiveness of discourse are really exciting to read. I did learn a lot of American culture but in English rather than History. The utterly dislocating experience of the school did set me up for life for while I didn’t last there longer than a year I did go on to study German and Russian at Uni in the 1980’s and am now half way through a PhD in German film. None of which would have happened without the exposure to other cultures and nationalities.

    • There are always ebbs and flows of curriculum in any school system, public or international. Sometimes that is a result of a changing teacher population, sometimes the result of the higher powers (IB, GCSE, State) which feel certain things must now be taught and other things should go by the wayside. I once had a German colleague in another school say to me…”When I walk through these doors at school, I step into America.” As an American, I didn’t feel that at all. The school, when I was first there, felt strange and foreign. Thanks for your comments, I will try to find you again when I teach my Weimar Culture lessons, you can give me some more insight into Nosferatu and Metropolis.

      • That’s great thanks for coming back to me. Please feel free to contact me when you get to these films, they are really great. If you are looking at Nosferatu it is really worth looking at Das Kabinet Des Dr Caligari, which is Expressionist film gone mad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP3WDQXkJq4 and coincedentally stars Conrad Veidt who played Major Strasser in Casablanca. And if you get the chance watch Die Moerder Sind Unter Uns as a precourser to anything you do on Post War Germany. It is the very first feature film made in Germany after the war, it was released in 1946. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b87X17fU18M&list=PLBE87416DE61FEBD7 This version has subtitles. Sorry have gone in to German film fan. Please feel free to drop me a line on wg000538@reading.ac.uk LG Richard

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