Whitewashing The History Books

With school back in full swing, parents and educators are not just debating masks or in-person classes, they’re also grappling with what to teach students. On June 17th 2021, President Joe Biden signed a law making Juneteenth a federal holiday, yet as of August 12th 2021, 26 states have introduced bills or taken steps to restrict teaching critical race theory in schools. Critical race theory has been a contentious topic in recent months as more states aim to ban it in schools. For some, critical race theory is a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy; and for others, it’s a divisive discourse that indoctrinates the youth to reject their country and its history. The white washing of the education system can and will have detrimental impacts, ignoring and erasing important parts of history that are still prominent and important today.

This is not a new phenomenon: the American education system has been white washed since the founding of the nation. Most Americans were not taught that Black people developed the blood banks system, or that the concept of mandatory public education emerged from the policies of Black-led governments in the South during Reconstruction. Yet they were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America and that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb, which are both myths. These falsehoods continue to be taught in schools. With the white washing of the education system, children from minority backgrounds are being deprived from learning about their culture and history in school.

The white washing of the education system goes beyond History classes: 76% of books read in US high schools are written by white men but they only make up 31% of the American population. This isn’t a problem that is limited to high schools: In 2016, Yale University received a petition to “decolonize” a core class. Elevating literature written by white men ignores the experiences of a large majority of the world. However, at some institutions, English literature students have pushed back against reading lists that included mostly white male authors. Reading lists that are overwhelmingly dominated by white male authors insinuates that there are few authors of color who are worth reading.

Teaching a whitewashed version of American history ignores the oppressions that have left a legacy that still haunts us today. It prevents students to contextualize and understand all aspects of history. Having a diverse curriculum will benefit students in the long haul. Over the course of my middle and high school years, I read books by authors from all across the world, from Toni Morrison (USA), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria), to Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan). It made me curious about the world and, more importantly, I gained knowledge and understanding of global issues. Exposing children at a young age to different cultures helps them to better understand the complexities in the world today and tomorrow.

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