When George Washington confessed that he chopped down his father’s cherry tree he allegedly stated the famous words: “I cannot tell a lie.” In elementary school this story was told to inspire young students to follow in the “honest” example of the first president of the United States of America. Ironically, the whole story is a lie in itself because it never happened.
But this story that is taught to the younger generation reveals the strange fusion of myths, misinformation and the biased point of view our school system has toward its history. We have placed so much trust in a single school system in hopes that we learn factual information. However, the lessons taught in history class seem to be a bit less trustworthy.
UCR Associate Professor of Education Margaret Nash revealed this summer at the Huntington Library the true story of women’s education in the United States. Her research focuses on white middle-class women during the period of 1780-1840. Contrary to common belief, women — white middle-class women — did receive the same type of education as white middle-class men.
It makes sense. Educated women would be eager to use their knowledge to vote and would be in desire of expanding their rights. The period of time that Nash researched revealed that women were given equal education, but not equal rights.
It was a period when middle-class Protestants wanted to separate the middle class and protect younger generations from “taboo” Catholic teachings. This led to education across the board for white middle-class boys and girls. During this time women were provided the tools they would need to lead a protest against the United States government.
It is interesting to note that this information was retracted from the history books. Education was willingly provided to white middle-class women because they weren’t seen as a threat to the government. But once women began to demand rights — since they were indeed equally educated — education became more difficult to obtain as a woman. So ultimately, the land of opportunity actually took away their opportunity to be equal to men.
In fact it seems that there is more than one scholar who has looked back upon America’s history and examined its misconstrued story with a sense of confusion. Howard Zinn, the author of “A People’s History of the United States” discusses history in a different manner. Instead of discussing history through the eyes of Americans, he tells the narrative through the eyes of the those who were perceived to be opponents of the United States.
Interestingly enough, America seems more ruthless for success rather than selfless in its attempts to create a better world, differing from how history is taught in schools. But the information isn’t exactly changed in history books, but rather left out. However, leaving out history is just as bad as changing it.
Howard Zinn explained that if there is the belief that history should progress society in some way, then, “Objectivity is impossible … it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance causes of humanity.” We’ve been conditioned to think that America was built on an upward track that enables us to move past adversity and become greater throughout the years. But this mentality is what causes us to “assume” the goal of our society was to always selflessly progress its own people for the sake of the entire whole.
Kenneth C. Davis, author of the “Don’t Know Much About …” series and “America’s Hidden History,” also reveals that, “People want to paint a picture of the past that is filled with pride and patriotism,” but ultimately the stories do not correlate with the actual past. Our history classes have created an “American Logic” that America has been on an upward slope to success, the top of which we have reached today.
Although textbooks over the generations have transitioned by adding in more accurate information, it creates a sense of doubt even now that history books tell everything. Take for instance the history books of 1968. Women, African-Americans and Native Americans were left out of the text. Because of this “American Logic” we think these faulty history books are things of the past and that we have reached a new and more accurate view of the United States.
However, this is not true because there are still missing pieces of our history that reveal the “true” America. The idea that the history of the United States is being taught by our government should sound off an alarm.
One piece of information that should be taught in history class is to question everything and to research topics beyond the classroom setting. Do not believe everything you hear even if it is in an institutional setting. America’s school system seems to be teaching a silly glimpse of the past with its patriotic road to freedom, leaving out facts. That is just as wrong.