Should We Rewrite American History Books?
"History has a point of view; it cannot be all things to all people." - Samuel Taylor
When it comes to textbooks, every school district in the nation has its own system for ordering. What a district chooses impacts what the students in those boundaries learn. When it comes to subjects like math, science and even English there are some absolute truths that must be followed. When it comes to history or social sciences though, there is some wiggle room. These subjects have their own facts, of course, but the perspective can make all the difference. Of all topics, these have the ability to be biased or slanted towards a particular group.
Since the early 1990s there has been a push to make the American history lessons taught in K-12 classrooms more multicultural in their approach. From the truth behind Christopher Columbus' alleged ruthless ways to the acknowledgment that Thomas Jefferson bore children with his slaves, the Puritanical, patriotic approach to America's founders has been questioned - at least by some. Is it right to put these men on a pedestal? Is it wrong to point out their flaws? Which is more important - the truth or shared nationalistic beliefs?
The latest iteration of these arguments comes out of Texas. A coalition of Hispanic-American educators and over 50 organizations have petitioned the State Board of Education to have Mexican-American history placed on a list of over 200 electives available in Texas high schools. The list in place now includes electives like Web gaming and floral design. The petition is meeting opposition, however, because of the danger of its "leftist" ideals. Board members also cite the expense (one former member cited "millions" when it comes to price tag) and say that there is no reason to officially add the course since school districts already have the authority to teach it if they want.
Given that logic, there was probably never a need to add floral design, or Web gaming, to the official list either. Yet somewhere along the way that "cost" was justified. Yet the history of the state told from the perspective of the ancestors of its majority student group is not worth putting on the official list.
The refusal in Texas speaks volumes to the opposing histories that exist in this country. American history has come to mean anything from a migratory European perspective. But the term "American" itself cannot be contained to just one simple definition, or one region of the world. The people here are multicultural and multiethnic, and each home country's history IS a part of the American one. Yet some educators would rather compartmentalize the rich, vibrant and diverse histories into teachable units with a common theme. I don't believe that gives students a full perspective on their histories and those of their fellow citizens. The narrowness in our own history classrooms leads to greater close-mindedness when it comes to other areas of the world, too.
There are history and social studies teachers who do a good job presenting more than one side to each story, and those teachers should be applauded for their efforts. But for K-12 students to have a fuller, well-informed view on their own histories and futures, courses like Mexican-American history need to be taught, along with Asian-American, African-American and any other type of "American" ones. We need to give our students the credit to come to their own conclusions about their country, and not leave out inconvenient details. By essentially censoring what they learn, we do our students a great disservice and our country, too.
What do you think? Is it possible to expand the depth of history classes and still have students with shared values?
Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.