Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Along with the reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement, in response to the murders of Ahmad Arbery and Geroge Floyd, has come a revisitation of history. As protests garner hundreds of thousands of participants, so is the movement behind taking down not only Confederate monuments but monuments of both notorious and hidden bigotted historical figures as well — slaveowner and Revolutionary War general Philip Schuyler, Italian colonizer Christopher Columbus, and Confederate officer John Breckenridge Castleman to name a few. The fact that such statues were erected in the first place begs the questions of how and what exactly Americans are being taught about not only the history of their country, but world history as well.
Black history in the U.S. is oftentimes looked over or pushed aside, not only by those creating curriculums but by educators as well. Five states neglect to have civil rights education within their schools and the Southern Poverty Law Center gave Ds and Fs to a majority of states on their approaches to teaching about the Civil Rights Movement. Caucasian teachers in states across the country have been found to insensitively teach information and events specifically regarding the country’s history of slavery, putting African American students in positions of roleplaying slave auctions or having students play slaves and slavecatchers in a game of tag. The lack of sensitivity and awareness regarding the critical contributions of African Americans to the U.S. may be attributed to the fact that 80 percent of our teachers are white.
The ignorance within the American education system does not end there. As a Kashmiri-American, it is logical that I grew up with a hyper-awareness surrounding my parents’ place of origin and its history. While my elementary school classmates learned the watered-down version of the American government, I inquired about the political conflict between India and Pakistan and how the results of colonization in Asia has led to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of those that shared my ethnicity.
Even as I grew older and took classes surrounding historical global events, when it came to learning about Asia and Africa, colonialism and its devastating effects were glossed over in an attempt that seemed to downplay the destructive actions of European nations. The College Board, which offers its Advanced Placement classes in thousands of schools across the country, has yet to create classes based solely around the history of cultures and regions other than Europe. Very few people my age and even older know about the conflict and even lack seemingly basic knowledge about the rest of the world.
This may not seem detrimental, but it creates a lack of empathy and awareness that is necessary for the kids that will become members of society to learn. I was once at a Model United Nations conference, where students choose to learn about global issues, and had a student tell me directly that he didn’t care what happened in Kashmir. It is unacceptable to allow the continuation of education centered around European and Caucasian history when more inclusive curricula would foster empathy among students and future members of society for the struggles of people of color across the globe.
The benefits of including the history of cultures that differ from Europe has actually proven to benefit students. A study done by Stanford researchers in a San Francisco high school revealed that it reaped the benefits of giving students the opportunity to learn about numerous ethnic groups. Students considered to be at risk for dropping out of school showed increased attendance and higher grade-point averages, even contributing to higher test scores in Hispanic and male students.
It cannot be denied that due to the overwhelming incompetence of the American education system when it comes to teaching the history of people of color, each generation continues the cycle of ignoring and misconstruing American history. What must be done to combat this is not only the reconstruction of American curriculums but a broadened opportunity for people of color to be hired as educators so that students may be exposed to history in such a way that does not do a disservice to the impacts and contributions of people of color. Mississippi is one of the few states in which the civil rights curriculum has been reexamined and built to highlight the contributions and local impacts of the movement, introducing it early in their educational careers, though benefits are undone as textbooks and other materials remain outdated and dedicate little room to the movement. While American history serves its purpose as a foundation for citizens to learn about their country, excluding or misrepresenting people of color within its history serves only to set up another generation of bigotry and ignorance, which inevitably constitutes the failure of a fair and free democracy.