How Do We Teach US History: Myths or History
In Oklahoma, there’s a brouhaha over whether the AP US History exam should be banned because it’s not respectful enough of US History.
More broadly, there’s decades of battles of how we should tell the story of US history in K12. Is it a collection of inspirational stories to make us proud? Is it a stab at teaching the real complexity of history of our peoples so today’s students have a real inkling of how things came to be the way they are?
I’m by coincidence, reading two books that directly relate to this debate. I’ll circle back to the references at the end.
Let me start by pointing out that in Russia, the history books are written as a way to justify their current policies and politics. History is an extension of their propaganda policy which is part of the control system used to deceive, confuse, and manipulate the public.
I’m pleased to live in the USA, land of the free, home of the brave. I am proud of our history but not of all of it.
As an American, I expect the history books to tell real history, not Russian-style propaganda myths. We are a free country with a proud but blemished history. Lets not further tarnish ourselves by not being frank about what’s happened.
The two books that I’m reading:
Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev. It’s an amusing book told in the first person by a Brit who worked inside the new Russia.
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrongby James W. Loewen. This is the second version of an analysis of high school American textbooks and how they tell a version of US history that has to be totally unlearned by students who study history at the college level. He covers the changes since the first version of his book came out.
Teaching history is part of the crazy culture wars in this country. Here’s one example from the book. Most of us were brought up on cowboy movies which tell one history of the frontier.
It doesn’t tell say that the frontier was much like the Berlin Wall, meant to keep people from escaping to the freedom of living with the Native Americans. The slaves were trying to escape to freedom. Many free blacks w
ere also trying to escape the racist European society. And, many Europeans wanted to go live with the Native Americans but according to many colonial and then state laws, it was illegal. This is an untold but real history of much of our frontier.