19th and 20th century methodologies have led us to today’s curriculum maps and instructional guides. This is often quite helpful in determining the linear planning necessary for instructors to make sense of the vast amount of information available to students today. It his harmful, however, when these same guides limit our thinking about the topics we
teach. If we are teaching World History, for instance, we tend to believe that our examples must always come from places other than the United States. This is erroneous thinking. Let me give you an example.
If you are teaching World History, Western Civilization, Third World History or the History of the Americas, one of the topics you will address and discuss is the division of labor in society. How would you engage your students in such a discussion in a way that would capture their imagination? Would it be, “read pages 75 – 77 in the textbook”? I don’t think so. Instead, I would project the 3D image of a 21st century drop spindle on my
Smartboard/Whiteboard as the students arrived in class. I would then ask them, “What is this, and why might it be important to us to today?” I would then turn the students loose to analyze, synthesize, problem-solve and make evidence-based decisions on their own. If they needed prompts or assistance, context support in the form of images of persons using the tool could be provided.
Drop spindles are marvelous items. They are found in every civilization from earliest times through today. Images exist from Ancient Egypt, through Greece, Rome, the Mayans, the Middle Ages, and modern times of women using drop spindles. These images are found in murals, on pottery and in ancient texts. Once the item identified, the second part of the question can be addressed in terms of the discipline under study.
The drop spindle demonstrates that spinning is ubiquitous to every civilization, and that spinning, with some minor exceptions, has been women’s work. Spinning has defined women in all civilizations and cultures from the beginning of time. What is important here, is that a 21st century object was used to introduce the idea of the division of labor and women’s roles in society not only throughout the world, but also since the beginning of recorded history.
This characteristic of an artifact, its application in society, is not constrained by date, time or location. Saws are saws. Drop spindles are drop spindles. Wheels are wheels. As teachers, we need to get away from the limitations of teaching “Colonial history,” or the “Ancient World” in 19th and 20th century terms and apply the tools and artifacts that will engage our students in thinking broadly, critically and in terms relevant to them.
Drop spindles are just one example of how artifacts can open the world to students regardless of the era, group, economy, or location under study.