For quite some time, children in the U.S. have been receiving a heavily skewed education in American history. From grades K-12, children are spoonfed lies of American exceptionalism; they are taught that the U.S. is heroic and that their actions are justified in every situation ー even when it comes to slavery. However, these falsehoods hurt people of color in America because they erase and downplay their struggles. If this whitewashing of history continues, then history is bound to repeat itself. Schools have the responsibility to teach children the truth about slavery, the genocide of indigenous people and other horrors committed at the hands of white Americans if we want to move forward as a more educated nation. Regardless of how America tries to make itself appear, history is history. By ignoring the disturbing parts and only educating children on the glorified parts, we are doing them a disservice as citizens.
It is the government’s responsibility to provide a curriculum that offers a complete view of American history. Such a curriculum should be universal across all 50 states so that students have an equal understanding of real U.S. history. One curriculum that is beneficial to children is the 1619 Project, which highlights the legacy of slavery in America and how it has affected democracy to this day.
However, some Republican lawmakers are trying to punish schools who implement this curriculum and instead of offering funds so school curriculums center around America’s “heroism.” They believe that deviating from such lesson plans will lead to American youth being indoctrinated by the far left. But in truth, we can never celebrate American accomplishments if we do not hold our country accountable for the damage it has caused to marginalized groups. The 1619 Project does not overlook American accomplishments, but also does not gloss over the atrocities enacted upon Black people in this country. Projects such as this one uplift voices of groups that have been ignored by the sugarcoating of U.S. history.
Teachers must also move away from this destructive traditionalism and improve the way U.S. history is typically taught. Glossing over history is detrimental, and if we are not honest about this country’s past, then white supremacy will never fade away. History has played a large part in systemic racism today, so it is important that students are given the details as to how this came to be. Ignoring the horrors of slavery explains why racism and bigotry have trickled into the present.
Schools also must stop teaching history classes from a two-way-street point of view when it comes to colonization and slavery. Oftentimes, history courses ask students to find reasons to justify slavery or colonization. Young students of color should never be asked to explain why slavery or colonization was okay. Slavery and colonization should not be framed in a pros and cons manner. Students of color should never be asked to defend these damaging institutions.
Furthermore, kids often watch the news at home and have been keeping up with what is going on with movements such as Black Lives Matter or atrocities such as the Capitol riots. For this reason, it is important that children are taught the ugly side of U.S. history and politics because it would be misleading for children to be taught that the U.S. is such a great country but then see the horrible reality of the world in the news. Teachers need to take a more proactive approach to how they address these issues and connect them to the past so that kids can have a better understanding of the realities of this country.
It is not a mystery that history makes white people out to be white saviors. The extent to which we learn about people of color, racism and civil rights movements is shameful. In fact, people of color are still oppressed today because of how history is taught. As a result, the whitewashing of history needs to cease so children grow up to become more informed members of society who are able to make a difference. The argument that young children cannot handle these truths and that elementary school teachers must sugarcoat history is weak and irrelevant. After all, if Germany can teach the Holocaust accurately to children as young as nine, then U.S. schools can accurately teach about slavery.
Children are smarter than adults care to admit, and learning these truths later in life will not help students understand the full scope of politics in this country. It is not enough to learn everything as a crash course in the later years of high school and college. It is never too early to teach these topics to children, and it can definitely be tailored to the age groups without being too graphic or leaving anything out. Young people have resilient minds and can handle heavy topics. Besides, if they can be taught about violent American wars, then they can be taught about the violence of slavery. Upholding white nationalism often stems from parental influence, so schools have a responsibility to make their learning environments factual for students to grow and be more educated than their parents.
If the way we teach U.S. history is not criticized and revised, then racism and ignorance will continue to affect this country in many negative ways. It is shameful that students are not given a chance early on in their lives to learn the truth of American history. Everything must begin in the classroom. And if this change occurs now, students will grow up equipped with better tools to think critically about this country and make a difference in society.