This week I was talking to an international student about my 100-level history class. The class is a pretty broad survey of European history between c. 1300 and 1700. In theory, the class requires no prerequisites. But in talking to this student, I realized that isn't quite true.
I do assume, when teaching an introductory class, that my students have had some history in high school. I assume that they've gotten a basic narrative of western history, that they've heard of feudalism, the Renaissance, and Martin Luther. My class is usually designed to take apart paradigms that I believe to be familiar, and to interrogate assumptions about what, for example, "the Renaissance" means.
This student, however, is Asian, and has had very little exposure to European history. It's kind of startling to me to think about how to teach in a way that genuinely did not assume any prior knowledge of the period being taught. How would I teach a whole class full of such students? I would really need to rethink the way I introduce all kinds of topics. With only one student in this situation, I'm less inclined to make major changes, but it's worthwhile to keep the lack of familiarity with the topic in mind. Perhaps I should even make fewer assumptions about what my American students may know.