The news article I’m mostly referring to today came to me via a friend on Facebook, but it was published on the PBS Newshour website. I was a little disappointed that PBS would support an article that was missing a huge necessary element of teaching and learning history.
On the surface, this appears to be a well-written, thoughtful opinion about how history has been taught incorrectly and our heroes aren’t heroes at all. The article even postulates that American history teachers have been lying to their students. Columbus and his successors kidnapped, murdered, enslaved, and even endorsed the rape of indigenous people in the Americas. In fact, the article even creates a connection with Dr. Martin Luther King — both Columbus and Dr. King have “personal” holidays, but Dr. King is presented as having higher moral character.
Ignoring allegations that have been levied throughout the years that Dr. King had his own moral failings, I still don’t think that teaching students about historical monstrosities through the lens of modern moral superiority does anyone any justice, either.
History has to be taught in context. 600 years ago, modern American and European men would probably be considered weak and effeminate. Serving one’s sovereign without question was a sign of good character. The rules of war and conquest were different back then. The list could go on and on.
I am not suggesting that we continue teaching fallacies: I, in fact, have occasionally referred to Pilgrim’s first harvest festival as the “original American redneck party” because it turns out that there were a bunch of (presumably) drunk men shooting guns for sport. It’s a conclusion I came to after reading a historical artifact at Plimoth.org.
I am simply advocating that we teach history in context, understanding that cultural norms and expectations have changed. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to condone, but we do have to accept these differences and teach them appropriately. In my opinion, teaching history in any other way is irresponsible.
Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past, what are your thoughts on the history and the controversy of the holiday?