There are more worlds than revealed in history textbooks

A favorite tee-shirt of mine shows four Native Americans prepared for battle. Around the image are the words, “Homeland Security / Fighting terrorism since 1492.” I’m always amazed when people don’t get the message.

“In fourteen-hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” And so began a dedicated effort by predominantly white Europeans to erase cultures which had existed for at least centuries in the “new” world.

It has long been understood that the winner writes the history books, including leaving out stories it doesn’t like.

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Chinese government slaughtered hundreds of its citizens, June 4, 1989 – wiped out were pro-democracy demonstrators who dared to stand up to the tyrants in charge of their lives.

A quarter of a century later, Chinese government prohibits public discussion and the year 1989 is banned from textbooks and Chinese websites.

Most of us would rather avoid talking about things that don’t make us look and feel good. We fought and died in the Vietnam shoot-em-up, and kept it out of our kids’ history books nearly 20 years after it was officially over. Book buyers in Texas and other states buying large quantities of school books thought we’d left Southeast Asia without killing enough North Vietnamese, and they weren’t having their youngsters learning how we’d “cut-and-run” from a fight.

In Texas, a single state board decides which books will be universally used by the state’s schools. So much for local control – and it makes the Lone Star State one of the largest school book buyers in the nation, behind only California. Textbooks are expensive, and publishers will make the books say whatever large-quantity buyers want them to say. And most schools in the rest of the nation buy what textbooks then are available.

I’ve often thought we should read and discuss historical novels in history class. They allow us to view images of life and thought processes without being constrained by a need to make history conform to political expediency. “The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, ostensibly portraying a wealthy young man and his pursuit of a girl, also depicts life in the period of excess and social upheaval leading into the Great Depression.

“Everything in this book is true, except for what’s not,” author James Rollins comments at the end of “The Doomsday Key.” He then lists numerous factual points that form the framework of his novel about efforts by a loosely-knit cabal of food designers and politicians to cut the world’s increasing over-population. It is true that “the amount of corn needed to fill an SUV tank full of ethanol would feed a starving person for a year.”

In Rollins’ case, history is woven with fiction to create a what-if scenario. Some of those points might be worth discussing in a high school class setting.

I recently read “Child 44,” by Tom Rob Smith. The tale, first in a trilogy, follows the tribulations of state security officer Leo Demidov in a political environment beginning with Joseph Stalin and moving toward present-day Russia – where crime, the government insists and enforces, does not exist.

Is there wonder out there how Vladimir Putin thinks he can with impunity annex part of a neighboring nation?

There are worlds outside our hometown that can only be described in fiction, virtually unhampered by a need to subscribe limit the story to “just the facts,” as determined by committees that find discomfort in discussion of more illuminating views.

Call the curriculum “Survey of Real History in a Make-Believe World.” It can be fun and interesting reading and discussion, and years after graduation maybe we will have not only a new generation of readers, but citizens who will understand the significance of “Fighting Terrorists since 1492.”

One thought on “There are more worlds than revealed in history textbooks”

  1. Well said and so true. How can children learn history when WWII is covered in 1/2 page? And the west was settled by brave men and women seeking a better life – end of story? I saw a similar tee-shirt a few days ago and complemented the man for wearing it. I recall reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and later as well, and realizing how little we learned about the French Revolution in world history class. Living here in the Historic Triangle has made me well aware of how little we learned about the years 1607-1865. I even had personal lesson about Massive Resistance in the 60s.

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