Civilized, Not Savage: The Power of Perspective in High School Curriculum about Aztec Culture


In high school history classes, the curriculum taught holds stereotypical representations of the Aztec people as “bloodthirsty” and “savage” -- stereotypes which were created by the Catholic, Europeans who colonized them. Since these misconceptions are taught, they are perpetuated. To find a way to better this curriculum, a series of high school history teachers were interviewed, an analysis of four common United States history textbooks was performed, and finally a Unit Plan, including essential questions, learning tasks, key terms, learning activities, text selection/additional resources, and finally additional comments was developed. In the Unit Plan, it is made clear that Aztec society was just as, if not more, civilized than most European civilizations at the time. It also places extra emphasis on the idea that Aztec people performed human sacrifices because they lived in a pre-scientific, superstitious, society, in which they believed they would help stop natural disasters by performing sacrifices. This distinction is important because it shows that Aztec society was not different from other European, Catholic pre-scientific, superstitious societies at the time, such as in the case of medieval public executions.



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