I have been wanting to write about this since I learned about the walkout by students in Colorado. It just never came out in a coherent fashion until tonight. "History is written by the victors" said Winston Churchill. The word "History" actually comes from "His story," which meant the winners got to tell the tale of what happened. So, there will always be a slant and an agenda in any history teachings. Ben Carson, a possible Republican Presidential candidate for 2016 is now on the record against the AP US History. Here is what Ben said:
“I am a little shocked quite frankly looking at the AP course in American history that’s being taught in high schools across our country right now. There’s only two paragraphs in there about George Washington. George Washington, believe it or not. Little or nothing about Martin Luther King. A whole section on slavery and how evil we are. A whole section about Japanese internment camps. A whole section about how we wiped out American Indians with no mercy. I mean I think most people when they finish that course, they’d be ready to sign up for ISIS. This is what we are doing to the young people in our nation. We have got to stop this silliness. We have to stop crucifying ourselves. Have we made mistakes as a nation? Of course we have. Why? Because we are people and all people make mistakes.”
Now, I personally do not like some of his positions, especially on gun control. Realistically, I will never agree 100% with any candidate, unless I run for office myself.
As in all elections, you have to look at a candidates positions and decide which one is closer to your own values. But I digress.
History is very messy. The people involved are very complex. Famous people in history have done things you might like, other things they have done you might abhor. With the exception of one person in the entire realm of human history, that's just the way it is. Any history course that over-focuses on either the good parts or the bad parts is an inadequate course.
The teachers that use the syllabus have a flexibility in what and how they present the information. I do agree with Ben here. If all you teach is how Americans wiped out the Native Americans, enslaved Africans and tried to exterminate the Japanese people, you are teaching our children that this country is evil. No one truly views themselves as evil, so I can see how teaching nothing but "Evil American Imperialism" can result in some of these students wanting to fight against what they have been told we are.
History is very complex. For instance, let me speak on slavery for a moment. A lot of people do not know this (because it isn't taught), about where the men and women who arrived in America as slaves started. In Africa, wars have been fought for thousands of years over shades of blackness between tribes. Tribe A didn't like tribe B, for the sole reason tribe B was lighter-skinned than tribe A. Not "White vs. Black," rather "coffee colored" vs. "chocolate colored." So, tribe A would attack tribe B and either wipe them all out, or make slaves of them. A lot of these captured men and women would be taken to the West Coast of Africa, where they were sold to Dutch traders and eventually ended up in the United States as slaves.
By the way, slavery is still going on today, this hour, this minute in Africa. Maybe they'll get around to abolishing it next year. Don't complain about ancient history when it's current events.
In case you didn't know it, there were free Black men who were slave owners themselves. There was also at least one Regiment of black slaves who fought for the Confederacy in the American Civil War. And just in case you thought slaves were used for dangerous work, quite the opposite. Many Irish offered themselves as indentured servants (which is basically a fancy way of saying "white slave") in order to be able to emigrate to America. The difference was, an indentured servant served for only a period of time, generally five to seven years.
At the end of their term, they became free themselves. One of the most dangerous jobs in the South was offloading the cotton bales from the ships that worked their way up and down the rivers of the South. It was the Irish indentured servants who "caught" the cotton bales being offloaded from the riverboats. If a line broke and a 500 pound bale fell on an Irishman, who really cared? If a slave was injured or killed, the owner was out a significant sum of money, spent in acquiring the slave and the potential income to be derived from the slaves labors.
Concerning the Native Americans, please tell me, when in the history of man where this never happened before? When the Romans moved into what is now Germany and England, they encountered the Germanic Tribes and other peoples like the Picts. Whenever a group of people move into a region where the natives were of a lower technological level already lived, the lower technology always lost. Very few borders in the world today are where they are because of "mutual agreement." They are there because one group took that land, or had it taken from them by force.
When Early Industrial Age Colonists came to America, they encountered a Stone Age society, namely the Native Americans. The Industrial society took the land from the Stone Age society. I am not saying this was good or bad, right or wrong, it happened and all the wishing in the world won't change the past. The United States is not perfect. It was created by flawed men. There are many instances in our history we should be ashamed about. There are also many instances where we should be proud of that we have done.
As a people, we have tried to do the right thing. Our forefathers fought for and created a new type of society, where the government did what the People told them to do, not the other way around. Americans invented the light bulb, plastics, the aircraft and a million other technological advances that changed the world, for the worse and the better.
Teachers and parents should teach our children how to think, not what to think. You do that by talking about history, with all of the known facts and the context of why those people did what they did. Only then will you truly learn the lessons of history.