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A Greater Understanding of the World

Dr. Peter Stearns Visits Midlo

Many students and administrations from around the county and Midlothian High School came to see Dr. Peter Stearns speak.

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For countless years, many bright students have tested their wits and taken AP World History at Midlothian High School primarily during their sophomore years. Until recently, with the implementation of AP Human Geography, AP World had been the first AP class most students took at Midlothian. Over the years, many students have attempted to reach out to Dr. Peter Stearns, author of the AP World History textbook, including Ivan Jackson, Jack Stid, Devin McCombs and Sai Poluri, all of whom tweeted at Dr. Stearns constantly, always hoping for a response. This year, their hard word paid off, as Dr. Stearns tweeted back at a student, saying he would be happy to come visit Midlothian.

Thus, on Friday, May 20, 2016, students had the opportunity  to meet Dr. Peter Stearns, a well-known figure in the World History community and an individual who has taught at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Rutgers University, Carnegie Mellon University, and George Mason University. This leading scholar has written more than 130 textbooks, including the AP World History textbook that students currently use at Midlothian.

The event commenced with an introduction by Mr. James Wilson, AP World History teacher at Midlothian, who regarded Dr. Stearns as one of the ¨principle architects of world history¨. Following this introduction, Mr. Wilson handed the podium over to Dr. Stearns. For the next hour, current and former students, as well as faculty from all over Chesterfield County, were blown away from the brief lecture about human history and the personal stories of a world renowned historian. Dr. Stearns exclaimed that his involvement in history was “unintended”– it all began with a love for political science, then transitioned into something more concrete and refined. ¨The ultimate goal of history is to improve the human understanding,¨ said Dr. Stearns.

His journey into history began with him seeking to assuage a worry of whether history is relevant to solving problems in modern day society. Through his intensive graduate course work, he dedicated himself to the concept of social history, which involves studying the activities of relatively ordinary people,  not just the greats. “Any human activity subject to change should be studied historically,” he advised. Dr. Stearns talked in depth about what drew him to world history, emphasizing that, until then, he felt “internationally minded, but not globally minded”. “By the 1980s, it was very clear that Americans live in a global world and need global understanding,” said Stearns. Since that realization, he furthered his understanding of world history by engaging in several world history textbook projects and brief texts chaired the College Board AP World History to create the new AP World test this year’s sophomores took early May.

In essence, AP World requires students to set aside their conventional approach to history and regard it as a study led by interpretation and analysis. World History stands as one of the toughest, most valuable AP courses at Midlothian High School. ¨I am starstruck that someone, who is so committed to world history and social history created this class and wrote this textbook, had the courage to say that 15 and 16 year olds can learn this material and should learn this material,¨ said Mr. Wilson.

Mr. James Wilson has taught AP World History at Midlothian for 10 years and has been lauded for his in-depth knowledge of world history and his dedication to his students. ¨Stearns has brought a methodology, a way to widen one’s eyes to see everything at once… a necessary beginning to world history,¨ said Mr. Wilson, who himself attended Midlothian High School and became inspired to pursue studies in world history after going on an art field trip to the VMFA. ¨The VMFA has a terrific South Asian collection, and it struck me just how different the culture was from everything I’ve known,” he recollected. “”I wanted to know more.” In college, Mr. Wilson took classes about South Asian religion and studied texts like the Mahabharata from a historical point of view. Working with scholars and professors from all over the world, including those from University of Chicago, he was inspired by the phrase ‘we make the strange familiar in order to make the familiar strange’. “It was past the notion that it was something exotic and unique. Rather, it challenges you to think how something so different to you could be someone else’s Tuesday. In turn, you see things with new eyes and choose what kind of person you can be. True world history absolutely does that.” Furthermore, it leaves students with a different perspective when they approach the contemporary, globalized, and still changing world around them.

Dr. Stearns broadened his audience’s understanding of history even further through the question and answer session of his presentation. Because Dr. Stearns is credited as one of the key founders of the Advanced Placement program, and the famous AP World History Exam is in part attributed to him, students took full advantage of this opportunity to seek knowledge. For students like junior Mariha Junaid, “the opportunity to meet Dr. Stearns was absolutely incredible after taking AP World History and struggling with the most difficult course of my high school career. It felt amazing to have the opportunity to stand in front of the man who changed both my perspective of history and my understanding of it.” Additionally Aaron Hou commented, “I feel that Dr. Stearns’ presentation was awesome as a past AP World student, as it solidified the critical concepts of world history, and the idea that history is ongoing and relevant to contemporary society today.”

Dr. Stearns successfully emphasized that history teaches us who we are, and it is a “fight worth fighting” because it allows students to develop a lifelong interest in global dimensions. “I wish we could do this every year for every class,” said Mr. Wilson. “These subjects are fulfilling, fun, and engaging with so much academic rigor. This is the carrot that motivates kids to work harder.”

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A Greater Understanding of the World