History is an important subject because, as Loewen puts it, “it is about us” (Loewen). We as a nation must study our past in order to understand how far our society has come, as well as learn about the future. They say that people make mistakes so that others can learn from them, and so in this regard we must learn about the examples of our ancestors and figure out our own choices based on the course of history. History has taught us about the negative consequences of certain actions, such as racism or murder, and has prevented us from repeating these actions in the present time. It is important to learn about where we came from as a human civilization, and to connect with our past.
The historians that we have studied have discussed the issues of the origins of America, such as exploration, colonization, and slavery in more critical ways than we have been used to. Loewen in particular dedicates the entire message of his book to the misconceptions that teachers have taught students in American school systems across the country. Zinn also sets out to educate Americans about the truth and lies that have plagued the American school system in the past. Zinn utilizes many primary documents to emphasize his points, such as Christopher Columbus’ diary entry from the beginning of the first contact in the Americas. Columbus himself admits that he attempted to take the Indians by force despite the fact that they were friendly to him (Zinn).
History textbooks continue to complicate the way that history is taught to students across the country because there is no regulation as to what goes in to the textbook. You could write anything you want in a textbook and publish it, and someone might pick it up and decide to use it in their classroom. As a result, these young students are learning things that are simply not true, or are studying only the parts of a story, opting for a biased view of a country or a person. Textbooks are still considered the “backbone of education” (“How Christians Were Founder?”). In Texas, forty-eight million textbooks are distributed annually, with the state imposing specific standards on the educational publishers of the books (“How Christians Were Founder?”). This offers a lot of potential for the state of Texas to pressure the publishing companies about the information contained in the textbooks and the light it sheds on the history of Texas in particular as well as the United States as a whole. This is particularly dangerous, because the Texas agenda is strict about its Christian beliefs, such as the position on certain human rights issues, and the agenda is also strict about the Christian beliefs of the country’s “founders” (“How Christians Were Founder?”). In this state in particular, governments are trying to tie in Christian beliefs with history education, despite the separation of church and state that has existed for centuries throughout history (“How Christians Were Founder?”). This might also be a clear example that though we learn about the separation of church and state in our textbooks or history courses, it does not always apply to the real world. In some areas, Christianity is still directly tied to the law and the educational system and this has caused an issue for the shaping of education courses for the future generations of young students.
Another potential issue with the creation of textbooks is that anyone could alter the content of the stories within the text. For example, in Stille’s article, Professor Jack Garraty is surprised to learn that the text of his history textbook has been changed to state that a Spanish explorer he had never heard of discovered the Hudson River, instead of the original founder, Henry Hudson (Stille 1). It turned out that his publisher had decided to change the story to appeal to multicultural audiences and create a “multicultural hero” for the large Hispanic populations in California and Texas (Stille 1). California and Texas are the largest buyers of textbooks and therefore it was desirable to reach these populations by altering the course of history so they could learn about their own ancestors to prevent racial bias (Stille 1). This could be a major issue because if these states are the largest buyers of textbooks it means that they have the largest populations of schoolchildren, and all of these children would learn the wrong information about the country’s past. This could have extremely hindering consequences later on in their lives when they go on to a career in the real world.
These readings that we have studied in this class have made it clear that the history we were taught in elementary school as well as previous classes are not actually the way things really were. This history we were taught was laced with bias storytelling and heroism, nationalism, and Western cultural dominance. Loewen uses the example of Helen Keller in Lies My Teacher Told Me. He points out that, as elementary school children, we learn about Helen Keller in the sense that she was “the blind and deaf girl who overcame her physical handicaps, as an inspiration to generations of schoolchildren” (Loewen). However, the truth about Helen Keller is that she was actually a more radical person and actually supported Russian communism as well as the fight against classism. He concludes this example by stating that even though we might not agree with her opinions about communism or her praise of Russia, it is still important to note that our schooling and the mass media have left out this information (Loewen).
W.E.B. DuBois’ quote is suggesting that in order to paint a picture of the historical “heroes” of our American past, many people leave out the truth. It might showcase these people as heroic and noble people, but it does not tell us the full story. The consequences of being taught this type of history, with little truth and much of the storytelling that we have come to know, are ignorance and naivety. We become so ignorant to the truth about our nation’s past and believe that we as a society and a nation are the most superior in all of the world because of how noble we are told that our past is. We are unaware that our past is speckled with evil, and we are ignorant to the fact that our ancestors have been vulnerable to the negative actions that consumed them. We become naïve because we think that we are the golden child of the geographical world and that everything we do or have done is justified because of our good nature and intentions. However, we are taught to look past the evil and that we should not learn about this evil because we as students will become tainted by this negativity. A more realistic consequence of this story is being ignorant to things that are happening in the rest of the world, and having the sense to believe that evil lurks around every corner. Bales’ chapter “The New Slavery” tells us that slavery is still an issue, despite the laws against it, even in developed countries like the United States and France (Bales 3). This modern slavery, known as “new slavery,” is focused on using slave labor in order to minimize corporate costs and increase profits (Bales 4). If we do not believe these events happened in our past, it will be hard to combat them while they still exist today because we are less likely to believe that it is still happening in our world. In fact, Bales estimates that there are around twenty-seven million slaves in the world today (Bales 8).
The truth is that we will always look at our country in a positive way, regardless of our history, because this is the country we live in. We are born and raised American, and we must learn about the truth of our past in order to fully respect the land on which we live.
Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.
“How Christians Were Founder?”
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got
Wrong. New York: The New Press, 1999.
Stille, Alexander. “Review: The Betrayal of History.” New York Review of Books 45.10 (1998):
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. United States: Harper Perennial Modern