Before I delve into this matter of great debate, I would like to direct your attention to a quote by Marcus Garvey, an African-Jamaican activist: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Since the American school system was established, childrens’ minds have been fed with a Eurocentric version of U.S. history. You know the routine: Christopher Columbus discovered America, the British were all bad for colonizing the world, and the Americans were the heroes in World War II. Now, some parts of this may be true, but nationwide, curriculums for students in kindergarten all the way to 12th grade only portray certain parts of history, which is quite obviously biased. But, then the questions start forming: Why is this the case? How does it impact a student’s knowledge base or perspective? Is there any way we can stop this?
Many regions attempt to hide or misrepresent some information that is taught in their schools if it is something that tarnishes the reputation of their country, and to ensure that the foreign outlook on that country is positive. As with any human being, one wouldn’t want their negative aspects to be portrayed to the public eye. But, some countries have understood how critical it is to correctly emphasize to their students the mistakes of the past to make sure that it is not repeated in the future.
Germany, for example, has made it mandatory to teach about their involvement in the mass genocide of the Holocaust. PBS reported, “Teaching the subject of the Holocaust and the Nazi era is mandatory in German schools and in addition to the classroom curriculum, almost all students have either visited a concentration camp or a Holocaust memorial or museum.” The article also outlines how essential it is for teachers to help spread awareness about topics that the education system might want to stay away from. Even the International Holocaust Remembrance Program has recognized that Germany understands the “magnitude of its responsibility for the worst crimes in European history.”
Here in America, with recent government officials, we’ve not only seen people forgetting the past, but increased support for dangerously terrible events like the Civil War. This influence has seeped into the local level, where school boards do not feel inclined to include embarrassing, yet important, events in their curriculum. Sure, any child knows that slavery ended in 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s support for the 13th Amendment. But only a small portion of those students know why the Civil Rights’ Movement had to be restarted in the 1960s and what minorities had to go through in the period of time between those two events.
But the most important reason to properly teach history is to prepare students for the real world. While America shows their children to be ignorant of the fact that no nation is perfect, other countries are giving opportunities for students to get a taste of what the rest of the world is like and how they can improve based on the mistakes of the past. And the simplest way to stop these misrepresentations of history is to develop a new system of school curriculums that do not filter out information.
If they were told to portray history one way, it can very well be taught in another. But, there is only so much that schools can do, and that is where it comes down to the individual: you. Whether you are a teacher or a student, spread awareness of the fact that this situation of being taught semi-accurate history is very real, and that we still have time to stop it before entire generations are taught otherwise.
So the next time Billy complains to your history teacher about why we need to learn about the Revolutionary War, tell them that if it weren’t for that, there’s a possibility that they wouldn’t exist. After all, a tree cannot survive without its roots.