In honor of the 4th of July and Independence Week this year, the widely respected Brookings Institution Brown Center published an article called,” The state of the nation’s social studies educators “, to highlight the various roles that Social Studies(S.S.) teachers play in K-12 education. While reading the article, my position on the subject of textbooks and the systemic reliance upon a skewed eurocentric biased approach to document history as fact IS exactly what is wrong with public. These books from which teachers instruction are guided, is the education of It is the S.S. teacher who frames and influences character development by what and how they teach U.S. and World History. Social Studies classrooms are learning environments where teachers influence and shape future lives, careers and the worldviews of young learners whose self concepts relative to others around them are developing.
It is in school that social mores, norms, traditions, and values are examined, questioned and demonstrate relevance. It is in this setting that children are supposed to learn the 5 W’s[who, what, when, where, and WHY] in context. However, history has never been fully credited for the weight it carries in the development of citizenship and human interactions. History can’t shape or change deeply adhered and revered family, or religious cultures, per sé, but it impacts and influences the way we view, perceive, regard and socialize with others who are different-and possess equally revered, personal cultures, experiences and values.
Know not your history, and ye are doomed to repeat it!
We have been through a dark past in this country. The way we teach history will greatly influence our actions, decisions and our life trajectory will be affected by the content and context of that which is taught in the classroom. Teachers are almost single-handedly responsible for the way we view government and will have an impact on whether we abide by and align ourselves with our established laws. If children aren’t given the whole truths of the world around them, and their relationship to the world, and most importantly the lives of the diverse peoples in the world, past and present, then we are doing great injustice, and instead of being parts of the solutions, we will be acting as parts of the problems in the world.
This leads me to say that while we’ve been blaming the ‘victims’ so to speak, the reason for so many black children failing in school, is not completely of their own doing. It is about what we aren’t doing- the educators, education system. The ONCE PURPOSEFUL, NOW SUBLIMINAL disregard of people of color in America, who have walked these grounds, many before the 1st settlers. But, missing from history??
It is our fault and no one suggests changing this- just curriculum standards, teacher training, and all else is debated, but the very aspect of education that would change lives and boost achievement, literally, is overlooked. Would it be so difficult and painful to allow the truths which we hold as ‘self-evident’ to be openly taught and explored by children?
If students aren’t given “mirrors and windows” in history class, then this is another grave injustice to the millions of diversely represented children who attend our schools. If students are given too many windows and not enough mirrors, as they impact the histories being taught, then they will either be dismissed and disrespected by society and each another-themselves. Children see things much more clear than adults; more concrete. It’s either yes or no, up or down, black or white, important or meaningless. If we continue teaching in the same manner, we perpetuate anger, resentment, disengagement, and marginalization. We throw them into the underbelly of society-we cause anger, destruction, crime, bullying, terrorism, etc…
If no heroes are given to black children, they will not see much hope for their future and view themselves as ‘outside’ of societal importance. It is mind-boggling that educators expect these children to succeed in school and in life when there are no heroes-no lives fully explored that help bring relevance and motivate success, resilience. They are secondary- OF LITTLE IMPORTANCE- and reduced to mere footnotes in our national history. Or, the very few noted personalities chosen are mentioned in the margins of the standard-issue textbooks, therefore minimally explored.
Embarrassingly acknowledged, teachers know very little about ‘diversity’ themselves, let alone having qualifications to teach it.
The remedy: Teachers, arm yourselves with new information, which may not necessarily be important to you[though it really is], but it is about your students and the truth!.
How does a child know for certain that they belong in school, can succeed in school, and that they can achieve any dreams or realize their potential? They are given 3-4 heroes, inspiring figures who look like them, if they are African-American, who have had similar experiences and struggles. These are their mirrors, and they don’t get enough in class.
There are so many figures in history, past and present, about whom all children should be taught, regardless of race. Sure, there are some children who will succeed, despite the lack of knowledge and familiarity of people to look to for inspiration and affirmation. But, public education, specifically, teaches to the masses, and some is not good enough. We want all or most to succeed, right?
All children, in all ethnic, racial, and religious groups, need mirrors, and it is up to S.S. teachers to explore the world of the past from their eyes, so to speak. They need to see, feel, and learn about the familiar-themselves, their people, their ancestors, their country of origin. And they need to see the virtue, the positive, even amidst the struggles, hard times,…slavery. Stop telling children that there was a ‘magical’ event, or ‘magical’ being that appeared out of a terrible circumstance and miraculously changed the world-not for themselves, but for everyone. This is how we approach the teaching of American history.
Though this nation was founded upon a framework of racism, separatism, superiority, oppressive, narrow-minded premise, it is within the social studies class that children can grow, learn, and embody a truly tolerant, respectful and empathic mindset as global citizens. S.S. teachers can and do shape our tomorrows, by the manner in which they present, and examine my, your and our yesterday. A more inclusive, balanced, and honest discovery of yesterday, contributes to a more kind, respectful, non-discriminatory, equitable humanitarian society.
History is more than just singular or isolated events, it involves the examination of lives of the people who helped shape that event in history, and the examination of the ways their actions affected the lives of the people in that historical era. Glossing over history in ways that reduce real-life experiences to mere footnotes or 1 or 2 paragraphs on a page, denies the opportunity that lessons may be learned from history. Have any teachers ever asked, ” If we had the influence today, would we restore slavery? Why or why not?”
Ask a student,” What was the exact date that slavery was officially abolished?” How many students in a classroom of 25, would you think could answer that question? Do you know? We know it was in 1865, but that’s all students were/are taught. How can they begin to frame their own personal perspectives on that practice or any events which followed after that date, when they aren’t fully informed. Slavery- reduced to one statement…one sentence! That was a major practice in the shaping of policies, laws, stereotypes, narratives, and impacted every aspect of American life. Could this not explain, in large part, the divisiveness of today’s climate? We aren’t allowing ourselves to face the issues that surrounded the socially-impactful decisions and practices, perspectives and policies and the lives they impacted.
Essentially, it is our duties to present truths, good and bad, embarrassing, shameful or proud truths along the way to the present. What has circulated across the world, is a standardized telling of ‘his-story, from his point of view, and disregarded the other sides of that truth. It is only then that youngsters can make informed decisions, and fully understand how it can happen that one person’s actions, words can reverberate and change lives, lifestyles, and society in general. Cause and effect, predicting the outcome, and other skills and thought processes considered ‘soft skills’ are gleaned from the study of history. History is people’s lives, and teachers of this subject must, must, must assume and own their responsibility to present and represent all lives. Teach outside the textbooks, until the textbooks reflect comprehensively inclusive facts.
When history comes alive in the classroom, it will be presented in its full richness as if it were virtual reality and will successfully facilitate empathic, tolerant, broad-minded compassionate and civic-minded learners.