ERIC Identifier: ED322023
Publication Date: 1990-06-00
Author: Gaunt, Philip
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science
Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about Western Europe. ERIC Digest.
Recent events have made it increasingly urgent to strengthen the study
of Western Europe in American schools. With full integration of the European
Community after 1992, with the unification of the two Germanys, and with
the newly democratic states of the old Soviet bloc seeking some form of
association with the European Economic Community (EEC), Western Europe
will inevitably continue to affect our lives in significant ways. And yet
the speed and complexity of the changes that are taking place make it difficult
for educators to gain access to recent relevant information and to develop
coherent teaching programs about West European affairs. This ERIC Digest
(1) discusses why students should learn about Western Europe, (2) suggests
where West European studies belongs in the curriculum, (3) outlines some
strategies for teaching the subject, and (4) lists a selection of key sources
WHY STUDENTS SHOULD LEARN ABOUT WESTERN EUROPE.
The fact that the United States is a multi-ethnic society has already
led to development of educational programs dealing with ethnic diversity
and cultural pluralism. In this respect area studies, generally, have a
significant contribution to make, but the study of Western Europe is important
for a number of very specific reasons.
The European Economic Community (the EEC) has emerged as a major political
and economic power. With a population of 325 million and a GNP of $4 trillion,
the EEC represents the largest market and most powerful industrial force
in the world. If Western Europe joins forces with the newly liberated democracies
of Eastern Europe, the results will be staggering. The old dream of a united
Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals may become a reality.
Western Europe, however, is much more than a modern political entity.
It is wider and older than the EEC. It is the product of Greek culture
and Roman law, the heartland of Christianity, the birthplace of modern
science, and the crucible of political liberalism, all of which form the
foundation of the American way of life. Although in recent years the focus
of American agendas has shifted to other areas of the world, the fact remains
that many of the basic principles of our political and social systems originated
in Western Europe.
It has often been stated that some of our foreign policy problems spring
from a lack of understanding of other societies and how they are changing.
While today the East and the South present challenges and opportunities
of their own, world diplomacy and international relations as a whole remain
rooted in the traditions of Western Europe. The training of tomorrow's
leaders must include a knowledge of that area's history, culture, and political
and economic systems.
Economic, strategic, and cultural ties of the United States to Western
Europe are probably more important than ties to any other part of the world.
Yet this key world area has been taken for granted to the point of neglect.
While studies of ethnic and minority groups in the United States are important,
it is at least equally important for young Americans to understand something
about the traditions of Western constitutional democracy from which our
THE PLACE OF WEST EUROPEAN STUDIES IN THE CURRICULUM.
The serious and organized study of Western Europe is usually not undertaken
before the secondary school grades, and there are good reasons for this.
However, it would be valuable and relatively easy to spread it across the
curriculum in the elementary grades--not in the formal sense of "writing
across the curriculum" programs, but by giving it increased emphasis in
subject areas such as history, geography, economics, social studies, languages,
and religious studies. Indeed, many educators have found it quite natural
to do so, rather in the way that Monsieur Jourdain spoke "prose" without
Despite the urgent need to address the very real concerns of today's
minorities, the development of the United States has been so closely related
to the fortunes of Western Europe that it is almost impossible to keep
the subject out of the curriculum. The notion of independence is a key
component of American tradition, but many of our political and cultural
institutions mirror those of "the old country." Elements of Western civilization
emerge in any consideration of American art, literature, and thought. The
historical study of almost any American phenomenon requires at least a
look at the West European background against which it emerged.
Until the very end of the 19th century, the vast majority of the immigrants
arriving in the United States came essentially from Western Europe. Thus
the European experience is part of the very fabric of culture in the United
States. Sadly, much of the linguistic wealth of the immigrants was lost
in the melting pot, but today language teaching is as vigorous as it has
ever been, and many modern languages taught in our schools have their roots
in Western Europe.
In geography, economics, and history, Western Europe offers a breadth
and variety of different social, political, industrial, financial, and
legal systems that can be explored as individual cases or as comparative
entities or, again, as parts of a cohesive whole. Looking backwards, Western
Europe can be viewed as a sum of knowledge and experience. Looking forward
it can provide indicators for future trends in our own country. Its study,
therefore, has immediate relevance to a great many teaching areas.
STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING ABOUT WESTERN EUROPE.
The simplest strategy, without adopting a formal curriculum, is to identify
West European perspectives in teaching various subjects in the social studies.
For example, when teaching about Shakespeare or Galileo or Columbus, there
is a tendency to treat them as discrete topics within literature, science,
or exploration in history. But to situate such figures in a broader West
European context is to help students to make the intellectual connections
without which a full understanding of the subject is impossible.
Conversely, another important strategy is to recognize that there is
no such thing as a single European value system or a uniform European lifestyle.
Western Europe is a collection of individual cultures, languages, and peoples,
which happen to be held together by common political and economic objectives.
The essence of Western Europe is its diversity. This is a concept that
needs to be emphasized for American students who live in a multi-ethnic
but politically unified nation-state, which extends territorially from
the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
A third strategy is to make students aware of the interdependence of
Americans and Europeans, and the potential impact that West European events
can have on people and institutions in the United States. The concept of
interdependence is an essential element of social studies education, and
it can be illustrated by studies of the interactions of Western European
nation-states and the European Economic Community, as well as their relationship
with the United States.
Finally, on a more practical note, Western Europe can be studied through
the media: newspapers, magazines, and radio and television. The media coverage
of contemporary events is so intense that students are able to feel that
they are watching history in the making. This sense of immediacy can bring
excitement to any class of social studies students.
USEFUL SOURCES OF INFORMATION ABOUT WESTERN EUROPE.
The chief difficulty of teaching about Western Europe as a modern political
and economic entity is where to obtain concise and up-to-date information.
The best single source is the Delegation of the Commission of the European
Communities, 2100 M Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20037. Write for SOURCES
OF INFORMATION AND DOCUMENTS ON THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY, which lists publications,
depository libraries, and details of databases and free audiovisual resources.
Other useful sources are the West European National Resource Centers
located at the following Universities:
* University of California-Berkeley. 415-642-2273.
* Columbia University, New York, NY. 212-854-5400.
* Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. 812-855-3280 or 855-0036.
* C.U.N.Y., New York, NY. 212-790-4442.
* Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI. 616-383-8522.
* Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. 607-255-7592.
And, of course, for contemporary affairs, an obvious but much neglected
resource is THE ECONOMIST. This magazine can be ordered from the Subscription
Department, P.O. Box 904, Farmingdale, NY 11737-9804.
WEB LINK *
History of Europe
- Offers a history of every nation in Europe.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system
and are available in microfiche and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, write EDRS,
3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22304; telephone numbers 703-823-0500
and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated monthly
in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is available in
most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS; however, they
can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using the bibliographic
information provided below.
Bader, William B. "The Future of Area Studies: Western Europe." Society
22 (May-June 1985): 6-8. EJ 317 736.
Baker, John A. "The North Atlantic Treaty Organization at 40." Social
Education 53 (February 1989): 109-112. EJ 386 460.
Bruce, Michael G. "Teaching For and About Europe." Phi Delta kappan
65 (January 1984): 364-66. EJ 291 519.
Bruce, Michael G. "Europe in European Curricula." Phi Delta Kappan 68
(March 1987): 551-52. EJ 349 197.
Daltrop, Anne. "Politics and the European Community." 2nd edition. New
York: Longman, 1986.
DePorte, Anton W. "The Atlantic Alliance at 35." New York: Foreign Policy
Association, 1984. ED 270 372.
Gagnon, Paul. "Democracy's Untold Story: What World History Textbooks
Neglect." Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers, 1987. ED 313
Hallstein, Walter. "Europe in the Making." London: George Allen and
Metcalf, Fay, and Catherine Edwards. "Materials for Teaching about Europe:
An annotated Bibliography for Educators." Washington, DC: Atlantic Council
of the United States, 1986. ED 272 439.
Schuchart, Kelvin. "The European Economic Community." Social Studies
77 (January-February 1986): 19-22. EJ 335 130.
Shennan, Margaret. "Goals for Teaching About Europe." The Social Studies
77 (January-February 1986): 8-12. EJ 335 127.
Stillwell, Neil C. "Teaching about Western Europe: A Resource Guide."
Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education,
1988. ED 302 494.
Van de Kaa, Dirk J. "Europe's Second Demographic Transition." Population
Bulletin 42 (March 1987). ED 283 747.
Young, Harry F. "Atlas of NATO." Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1985. ED 256 667.
* This link did not appear in the original ERIC Digest. It has
been added by staff at ERICDigests.Org.