Editorial: Representation matters in history curriculum

“By whitewashing our history curriculum, students are being done a disservice. Students and educators must continue pursuing multiculturalism knowledge and stop accepting outdated curriculum.” Model: Diana Iampieri (Brooke Luther)

We’ve all heard that America is a melting pot with different identities blending together to form one diverse nation. However, from the time we start grade school social studies, we hear stories of White men who are credited with the discovery of America. While it is important that we are aware of the stories of our Founding Fathers, it is critical that we learn the role that all races and ethnicities have played in American history.

The percentage of our population made up of White people is declining while Latino, Hispanic, Asian-American and Black populations are rising steadily, according to the Brookings Institute. Despite our diversifying demographic, history textbooks still don’t reflect many students’ backgrounds sufficiently.

Often, our country’s history is told from a White perspective, including the story of Christopher Columbus, Pocahontas and the first Thanksgiving. Throughout our textbooks, there is an overarching theme that Western Europeans brought civilization, when in reality, the Indigenous people of the land lived in highly sophisticated societies well before their arrival. However, we learn little about these Native American tribes and nations and often leave out their mass genocide and rape by Europeans. Although love for one’s country is a positive thing, it can lead to blind patriotism when the negative history is left out.

We learn the stories of Black Americans’ suffering from the effects of slavery, Jim Crow and their struggle for civil rights. Throughout history, White men have had power while people of color have been oppressed. This means that the history of White men is better documented than minorities’.

Students are taught about a few select people of color but even those are covered shallowly, mainly known just for their contributions to civil rights. For example, all students know about the contributions for minority rights of Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth, but that is all we learn about them. Not enough students know that Frederick Douglass taught himself and other enslaved people to read and write before he escaped his owner to become an abolitionist leader and a women’s rights activist. We need to hear more about the lives of people of color.

This approach to history views minorities as side characters, even afterthoughts. Some argue that our curriculum can’t be changed because students must be prepared for the STAAR or AP test and don’t have the time to learn multiple angles of history. Of course, passing those exams is important, but it is also important that students learn the full story of America. Learning with the goal of passing the test does not prepare students to enter the real world with an open mind. We cannot expect today’s students to be well-rounded adults without teaching them all sides of American history.

While it is important to teach the mistreatment of different minority groups, it is also vital that we make note of their accomplishments. America would not be what it is today without the contributions by people of color.

History should be taught with a multifaceted approach, inclusive of more than one race. For minorities, it is difficult to stay engaged when they can’t personally relate to any of the stories.

We’ve all been told that it’s important to be aware of our history so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. All countries make mistakes, but it’s important that we learn about them, try to mend relationships with people we hurt and continue to educate ourselves.

By whitewashing our history curriculum, students are being done a disservice. Students and educators must continue pursuing multiculturalism knowledge and stop accepting outdated curriculum.