Latin American History In Homeschool Curricula

How Two Sentences Ruined an Entire History Book, For Me

Dear Homeschool Parents,

Last week I posted on Instagram and Facebook, the 1st of a monthly series where I describe how popular homeschool history programs address Latin American & Latino history. It only took 2 sentences from the book, which was the inspiration for the post, by a very popular homeschool history series to make me cringe. And TBH, it really bummed me out. Here are the two sentences,

“Of course, South America wasn’t an empty country filled with gold. Native South American tribes called the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas already lived there.”

Let’s Unpack

I gave a brief rundown of all the things wrong in those 2 sentences on my socials but let’s unpack this further. 

  • “South America wasn’t an empty country…” Did the author mean to say, “continent?” South America is a continent, not a country. There are only 7 continents to remember so it doesn’t seem reasonable to think a best-selling author/history professor would make the mistake of called a continent, a country.
  • “…filled with gold.” Okay, yes gold, or rather accumulating something of value to pay back investors and establishing of trading posts, was a motivating factor. But why is it that when we try to explain European conquest/invasion of the Americas to students, we make it seem as if “gold” was the beginning and end to everything? It’s contrite and diminishes the complex nature of this cataclysmic moment in history. Let’s give our homeschool students the benefit of the doubt and try to give them more than the, “it was all about gold” narrative. 
  • “Native South American tribes…” Excuse me? Did the author really just use the word “tribes” to describe who was living in South America at the time of European contact? Tribe and tribes are very problematic words to use. Historians never seem to use it when speaking about Europe, aside from “ancient Germanic tribes” and never again. Who was in South America in 1492? The empire which called itself Tawantinsuyu, but is now more commonly called the Inca Empire. The key word here is, empire, E-M-P-I-R-E. IDK how a historian could possibly confuse tribe with EMPIRE particularly when this EMPIRE had around 10 million people and basically ended hunger in its domain. And those weren’t the only people in South America, just on the Western side! Tribe and tribes is also very problematic when referring to any sovereign Native nation within the Americas. Just.Don’t.Use.It. 
  • “…the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas already lived there.” Does the author know that Mexico is NOT in South America? Neither are Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and all the other countries in Central America. So why did the author include the Maya and Aztecs in the sentence, at all? They were/are not in South America. And you know what else, they were/are not tribes either!
  • The Maya still exist. Yup. They didn’t “disappear” after the year 900 BCE. And it’s Maya, not “Mayans” because the word “Mayan” is only use when referring to the language used by the Maya. It’s not an adjective and should not be used to refer to them collectively. 
  • Aztec is not what the Mexica called themselves. Let’s clarify when we use it. Did the author mean the head of a triumvirate of power in central Mexico? Also, would the Mexica be called a “tribe” when their capital city alone had somewhere in the neighborhood 250,000 people at the time of European contact? But then again, the author thought Mexico was in South America, so who knows what the author meant. 

The Guesses

I asked for guesses as to which company was responsible for the 2 sentences and there were 2 pretty good guesses. The first guess was that the 2 sentences were from The Good and the Beautiful. Nope, not TGTB. Although I am aware TGTB has/had a representation problem particularly with depictions of BIPOC. TGTB is not a company whose products I’d ever use for history, IMHO. The 2nd guess was if the 2 sentences were from Classical Conversations. Nope, not CC. I have previewed an old edition of their memory work and would not recommend it either, in terms of Latin American history.

Who Wrote Those 2 Sentences 

You have waited long enough. The 2 sentences are in Story of the World, Volume 3: Early Modern Times by Susan Wise Bauer. I’m going to give y’all a minute.

1 minute passes…..

Are you as bummed as I was? As disappointed? Parents, they are in the first chapter! I couldn’t get through the rest of it. You’re probably shaking your head or racing to find your copy. Let me help, they are in chapter 1. If you don’t own the book, you can see them in the Kindle sample pages. 

What To Do Now

This was enough to ruin the book for me. But it may be nothing to you. And it’s okay for us to disagree about it. If you want to continue using the book, go ahead. You know what’s best for your homeschool. However, you are now aware of the problematic content, you are aware of the mistakes, you can pass on the knowledge to your children! You are empowered now! It is not just enough to include Latin America in our homeschool history books, it has to be accurate and respectful. Yes, representation matters. But words matter too. Our homeschool companies can’t just patronize the BIPOC community by including us and expect us to sit by and read our history so belittled and distorted like this!  This history is worthy of study and worthy of the intense scholarship that European history has been given. And while I do respect Susan Wise Bauer and what Well-Trained Mind Press has done for our homeschool community, I am not okay with this.

Hopeful for another, corrected edition of SOTW,


P.S. Here is a coupon code for my Parent Resource Guide. For $8, you can learn this history in a way that’s convenient for you. The code is WordsMatter50, it’s good until November 15th. 

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