Ignorant of Our Own History—The Shortcomings of America’s Public Education

BY: VERONICA DeMORNAY-O’NEAL, CONTRIBUTOR

Public education in America is a disgrace. As a teenager who has attended their local public school for eight years, I can attest that it is beyond inadequate. Students have great difficulty retaining what is taught, as much of the information thrown at them is only shallowly memorized for the next assessment and then quickly forgotten afterward.

As a result, we as a country are largely ignorant of our own history. This is evident in the racial tensions that exist today, as adolescents and adults alike are unaware of the true severity of black oppression in our country; Black people were only truly given the right to vote without legal obstacles fifty-three years ago. Discrimination based on race, gender or religion was outlawed only fifty-two years ago. Women were only guaranteed equal pay to men fifty-one years ago and were only allowed to apply for a credit card forty-three years ago. Most teenagers’ parents are older than these acts of legislation, but these are treated as issues of the distant past that have no ramifications in today’s society.

Public education is presented as a one-size-fits-all system while in reality, it should be the opposite. Students are given busywork by underpaid, often uninspiring teachers and grow resentful towards this seeming waste of time. However, education is the most important aspect of society and absolutely vital to democracy. It is past time for reform. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

As we are seeing today, there are neo-Nazis marching through the streets of certain areas of America yelling hateful threats and wielding torches and swastikas. I don’t believe that these young people have fully grasped the level of devastation and acts of evil that the Nazis committed during the Holocaust, or that America actually fought against the Nazis, or else how could they affiliate themselves with such a group?

And how could they know? Our public schools speed through the topic without facilitating vigorous discussions or deeper analysis. How could we know the true horrors of slavery with only a boring, linear approach to our own history when it is anything but? History is not history; it is alive, complex, interesting, present and pulsing through all of us every day.

The events that occur in a nation do not simply disappear; they remain in all aspects of society: sometimes dormant, sometimes very apparent. History will repeat itself if we don’t educate ourselves and work hard to ensure that it doesn’t. This is the government’s job: to keep the masses educated for free.

Our history textbooks are also written from the whitewashed, ethnocentric, patriarchal perspective that excludes certain unsightly, yet very true, details of our history. If young Americans are not taught any of our country’s faults, they are armed with a dangerous, unaware sense of American exceptionalism and nationalism.

Our country was founded on the physical and cultural genocide of millions of indigenous peoples and on the kidnapping and enslaving of Africans to do the work we were too lazy to do. Today, white teenagers roll their eyes at their black peers who “play the race card” or who refer to the past three hundred years of slavery and oppression in our country, because they don’t see their correlation to today’s society. To them, these concepts are merely sad, but irrelevant, pieces of information to our modern culture.

Racism is not an attribute of America. Racism is America. The only way to eradicate this foul disease from our society is to be fully aware of our past through public education, do what we can to make up for it, and move on. By ignoring or minimalizing our shameful past, we are saying that we have done nothing wrong, and we continue down the same path of hatred and marginalization.

Additionally, most American history textbooks exclude recent history within the past twenty to thirty years. Historians cite an apparent lack of sufficient time for objectivity to recent events; however, this prevents students from being fully aware of recent events that are necessary to communicate knowledgeably in today’s world.

Even in the textbooks that include recent history, students hardly have enough time left in the school year to cover them; as recent events are in the rarely attainable final few chapters often hidden by mismanaged curriculum time.

The lack of sufficient history education in American public schooling was clear in the 2016 presidential election and only seems to become more evident with each disconcerting headline. The time for reform is now. We need to urge our policymakers, or become policymakers, to invest in a necessary quality public education.

Image Credits: https://www.thelantern.com/2014/09/opinion-delaying-school-start-times-wont-prepare-students-for-college-real-world/