By Renata T
Through ten years of schooling, one topic that was covered in those ten years was American History. So, now I can be sure that I know it all, right?
We all know the story of Columbus discovering the Americas, the Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution on the Mayflower, their first Thanksgiving, the establishment of the 13 colonies, Paul Revere’s ride, the Louisiana Purchase, etc. These stories take up hundreds upon hundreds of pages in our history books, but as we flip through them, how often will we stumble upon chapters about Black history, Native American history, or about a country other than our own? One chapter? A few pages? A subheading seems to be more accurate.
Is this curriculum enough? Are we learning enough? Is this the best way to be prepared for the future? The answer is no. The way that America came to be the way it is today is most definitely not only because of the events that we have learned in our U.S. history books. Many pivotal moments and crucial are histories are missing. For example, the state of Michigan does not require their public schools to teach their students about Black history; it’s up to the teacher to decide to give that material. What ends up happening is that we focus on that one sub-heading in our history books, spend an extra five minutes on it, and maybe even have a Black kid in our class speak aloud about how they feel about it, as if they can speak for their whole race. The past of suffering and slavery, although it may be hard to imagine and shameful to talk about, did most certainly happen and their strength and willpower to have gained freedom is the kind of willpower that is still seen today as we continue their fight for equality.
Black history is most certainly not the only one that has been ignored. The same can be said for Asian-American history, that for years has not even managed to receive a subheading in our history books. The majority of our “American” railroads were not created by the white men that we learn so much about, but by these Asian immigrants who have greatly influenced American history with their breakthroughs and sacrifices and deserves to be learned about.
Historical sacrifices cannot be mentioned without Native American History. This history is perhaps the most underrepresented in our history classes, when ironically, they should be the focus of the class since they are the only true Americans. In elementary school, their story is completely changed; making it seem as if they volunteered to be confined into their reservations and just gave up their land out of the goodness of their hearts, and not because they were practically exterminated by the white settlers. Their only mention has been in their participation of Thanksgiving, which has again been modified to fit the idea of the “kind” and “giving” settlers. The true story of Thanksgiving began with the only Patuxet Native American, named Squanto, that survived English slavery and the diseases that the white men brought with them. Squanto spoke English and was forced to teach the English to grow and plant crops and hunt. But even better is where the name “Thanksgiving” comes from. Thanksgiving was not named so in honor of all the help the Natives “offered,” but that the English and Dutch settlers managed to force the Pequot Nation to sign over their land by murdering 700 of the men, women, and children of the tribe. Very different than the pretty picture of Thanksgiving that our history books paint, isn’t it?
These groups are a huge part of the history of our country, so how can we graduate high school claiming that we know “American” history when we have been deprived for such a huge part of it? In our history classes, we only learn about the changes that the European immigrants have made to our country, and if that is all that our children are taught how can they believe they can make change to the world, if they think that no one like them has ever done so?
Thinking of our children and the future generations, we should also begin to realize that the United States is not the only country in the world, contrary to what our schooling system may believe. American History is focused on during eleven out of our twelve schooling years, that leaves one year to learn thousands of years of history about all the other countries that are just as much a part of the world as the United States. How can we expect our children to succeed in the real world, if they are only taught about the history of a sliver of it?
We, as Americans, are so focused on our own country and the problems of our country, as we should be – to an extent. We need to break free from the stigma of “dumb Americans” and realize that not knowing about the rest of the world is a disadvantage to us. Firstly at school, in other classes like English, World Language, and even in Science, we learn about principles that were discovered in other countries, we learn about theories created by foreign scientists, we learn about movements originating in other countries, we read brilliant pieces translated from other languages, and yet we miss out on so much because we don’t know so much about the countries that these things come from. Our personal relationships are hurt by our ignorance as well. Learning about these countries’ past is the only way to become aware of the other problems and the way the world is today. We do not respect other cultures and shy away from cultures that are not our own simply due to the fact that we have not learned about them and understood them. We shun cultures that are not our own and discriminate against foreigners because we are not taught why these cultures celebrate their religions and why they have these customs. To create a united future all we need to do is have a complete education.
Each country and group of people has a rich history that can inspire us and teach us about not only the past, but the future, because if “history repeats itself” is entirely true, why are we not given the chance to be taught all of it?