By Shannon McFadden
I did not expect to write this soon, but the events that took place in Charlottesville, VA got my Twitter fingers moving. Charlottesville, VA 2017, is reminiscent of Charlottesville, VA 1997, 1977, 1957, 1937, 1917, and 1897. The astonishing thing to me, is the fact that we, as card-carrying Americans, are surprised that this can be going on in America. Now. How could this demonstration of hatred and bigotry happen now? The answer is quite elementary, my dear: education.
When I was a student in elementary school, we learned about American History, from the perspective of good, God-fearing Christians. Those who believed in the creed that all men were created equal, and that Jesus is the perfect example of humanity. Fast forward to middle school. American history, and the watered down version of the Trail of Tears, the Slave Experience, and the glowing reviews of the Forefathers. The Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution were discussed at length, yet, the stories of the oppressed were glossed over. There is a saying: history is told from the side of the winner. In the American education system, we are not the authors of our stories. There are no Native American history books, discussing the brutal murder of an entire people, all in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. No Japanese American history books, discussing the Holocaust-type conditions of America, circa 1940s. There is nothing discussing how Pacific Islanders were treated in the same fashion of Native Americans, where their homes made the “perfect” military base. Not to mention the lack of information on the Mexican inhabitants of Texas. Our students only learn history, from the aspect of white supremacy, which creates a sense of false superiority and false inferiority.
In urban centers, there are so many opportunities to learn history, from different viewpoints. We live in areas where knowledge is overflowing. Everyone has a computer in their hands, where researching a topic can happen in minutes. We are afforded the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life, where traditions are held close, but evolution is welcome. This is not true for many Americans. They reside in Charlottesville, VA. In Calvert County, MD. In Shacklefords, VA. Where the only exposure one has to history, is through the public school system, the private school system, and homeschool. With this being the case, it is impossible to understand differing viewpoints, as only one point is taught. History books are written by publishers, who want to promote the idea of one America, and know the only way to instill this ideology, is through education.
What are teachers to do? Well, first, we need to refute the lie. There are several different versions of the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and the oppression of the Irish. Aspects of American history, which are deemed as “ugly”, have been given less and less space in American history. How many of you actually learned about the concentration camps, full of Japanese Americans, in America? With little time spent on learning history, each generation is unable to fully connect and relate to each other. This is how Charlottesville, VA occurs. There are so many children, yearning to learn the truth, to understand why their parents are so adamant about preserving a “rich” history. We are seeing nothing new. We are seeing the product of propaganda that is being taught to our children, through a free and appropriate public education. As teachers, we need to combat the notion that the book is right. The book is not right. We need to use our teacher unions to fight for a fairer version of history. We need to pull together our resources, and promote the telling of stories from the side of the oppressed, the loser.
Howard Zinn wrote A People’s History of the United States, which discusses the founding of the American educational system. It discusses how education was created to maintain the social status of the upper class. As more poor whites fought for respect, the school system began to evolve. As teachers, I charge you to read this book. This is how we understand our role. We are liberators. How can we liberate, if we settle for modified history, where liberation is not at the forefront. We are disgusted by the acts of bigotry, yet we allow the stories of the oppressed to go untold. We are the tellers of these stories. Teach your students about the Crusades, and create lessons connecting the Crusades to World War 1 and 2. Explain to them the role America played in combating Nazism, while there are Americans who follow that ideology. This is not about Black and white. This is about teachers stepping up, and declaring that we will not continue to enslave the minds of our youth. We are here to expand their thoughts, their outlook on life, and to give a voice to the voiceless. Activism begins in the classroom. Activism begins with us.