OP-ED: WHITEWASHED HISTORY NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED IN SCHOOLS NATIONWIDE

By Olivia Schmid || Layout Assistant

It’s insane how much perspective one gains once they graduate high school and move into the big “scary” world of college (and for those wondering, it isn’t THAT scary after all; take a breather).  Suddenly your sphere of influence is no longer limited to those in your town or county, and you have access to more people from more backgrounds than you most likely ever have before.

There are several things I love about college right now – the professors are amazing, I’m living on my own, I have sushi everyday for lunch (probably not the healthiest idea I’ve had), and c’mon, you can’t beat Lancaster City; however, the one thing that stands out to me is the education I’m receiving here at F&M.

Perhaps this is thanks to the socratic seminar/general discussion based classes F&M provides. Discussions with your peers offer you the opportunity to gain insight from those with different lived experiences than you.  

This is where I was exposed to the realities of whitewashing.  Let’s talk about it as it pertains to history in particular.  Whitewashing refers to glossing over or covering up vices through a biased presentation of information (thanks, Merriam-Webster). If we’re using information from textbooks, who is writing this information?  Fact checking is sooo elementary it should be second nature at this point.  

Teaching history as a concept of the past that was addressed (and falsely therefore considered “solved”) decades ago makes the re-occurrence of these issues (that have always actually been with us) that much harder to understand and comprehend.

Take racism as an example. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is not addressing something brand new to 2020 – racism has existed ever since “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” (which is a WHOLE other story).  Perhaps if we were taught that racism didn’t actually end with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, our country wouldn’t be as divided over the matter.

While it may be a slight exaggeration that we are taught that racism ended in the 60’s, I think we are often under the impression that history is just that – history, aka that of the past. What if schools were to discuss the relevance of said “past” and acknowledge the parts of history that are still just as problematic today? 

How is it that history teaches us about hundreds of white figures to idolize (many of whom were slave owners and white supremacists), yet the only black Americans we are taught enough about to even begin to idolize are Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, both of whom we probably only remember because we learned about them back in elementary school.  

Not only is this a poor representation of America as a “melting pot”, but it makes an impact on students in today’s society, whether it is recognized or not. It is hard to strive for certain careers (and really anything at all) in life when you don’t learn of role models of your own race and descent.

A mistake I feel that many schools make is in the way they make history sound simple.  It’s unreasonable to determine that a movement that spanned years can be summed up in a singular class period.  We have to resist from telling a simple story. Talk about it in groups and learn how others see it, because one experience elicits millions of stories, just as learning of these experiences also elicits different reactions and interpretations (this is for any class, not just history classes).  The voices of your peers are more important than what you may initially believe them to be.

I am not saying that we need to focus solely on black Americans. I am saying schools should implement a curriculum that encompasses history for everything it is – the good, the bad, and the ugly – as well as actively looking for the truth of who did what.  How can we learn from the past if we’re never exposed to how the past actually went down?

Maybe change can’t happen this year or next. But we need to enact some sort of change now and be open to learning more than what we learn in the 50 minutes we spend in history class.  Whether high schools address whitewashing in general or not, students will find out for themselves soon enough when they go to college (like I did).  

There is no excuse for limiting students to the course material found in a textbook written in the early 2000’s – times are different now.  In a world where schools claim to adapt to change and the needs of their students, their curriculum also needs to be part of this change as well. 

One way to do this is by implementing something like The 1619 Project, which aims to bring to the forefront the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans.  Even if one may not agree with all of the contents of the project proposed by The New York Times, I believe that it would at least offer a different way of looking at American history as many high school students know it.

Another way to enact change today would be by simply starting conversation about how others view history. The challenge here is to be open-minded and to really listen, but isn’t this the whole point of going to school in the first place? School is not just about getting an education, but also learning how to interact with people around you despite differences in opinion.

If schools can manage this, it will ensure yet another way students can be life ready and more well-rounded for the great, big world ahead of them post-graduation.

First-year Olivia Schmid is a layout assistant. Her email is oschmid@fandm.edu.

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