History Can Hurt, But We Still Need to Know
You might think the question of what to teach in a history class is an easy one to answer. After all, facts are facts, right?
But facts can be tricky things. There are some facts that are easy to prove or disprove, and still there are people who make claims that aren’t true. And other people believe what they say, however often their statement has been disproved.
This isn’t a new trend, but the current tension around the question of who should be writing history comes at a particular point in time that most of us have not seen before. How many times have YOU lived through a global pandemic? How often have YOU watched social unrest unfold in the streets of your country? How many times have YOU had the opportunity to be a peaceful marcher in the effort to infuse our communities with social justice?
The term “unprecedented times” gets tossed around a lot these days, and there’s good reason. We are all dealing with new stuff, right? School is new. Work is new. The economy is new. The way we shop is new. How we entertain ourselves is new. And there’s a lot of new learning going on.
Many people are learning that the history they were taught as kids left many interesting events out. Some of our old history books left out entire populations of people. And stories of genocide, enslavement, brutality, and corruption? You might not remember very many of those coming to light in your classroom.
But there have always been teachers, writers, speakers, and academics working hard to overcome the inertia that can exist in history education by asking critical questions: How? Why? Who was in power? Who had something to gain and something to lose? Who lived to tell the tale?
These are critical questions because the lens through which we look at history matters. The lens is the difference between seeing the whole story—genocide, enslavement, brutality, and corruption included—and seeing only a sliver of the truth, the sliver that makes no one uncomfortable.
But that sliver can slice and wound as effectively as the whips used on the backs of slaves.
As teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, parents, and educators, we have an obligation to provide kids with the tools they need to become thriving and contributing members of society. One of those tools is a critical understanding of what came before. And that includes the painful stories.
Interested in U.S. history? Try a sample chapter.
In The Underground Railroad: Navigate the Journey from Slavery to Freedom, learn about the tens of thousands of African American men, women, and children who risked their lives to gain their freedom, and the thousands more who risked their lives to help.