President Trump announced on September 17th is an intention to create a “pro-America” curriculum to combat the intention of different school systems to teach a more even-handed historical curriculum that discusses the slave trade and racial injustice in a more fleshed out manner.
This highly political move is nothing new. When you have a country that is only 244 years old politicians and intellectuals need to create a reason or a myth of “America.” Every country has myths about its country, (King Arthur is an example of one of these myths). The problem that the United States has an age problem.
America had to create its own myth out of people who were real, flawed, and have a ton of historical data about them. But that isn’t how we create a “national myth” about our “founding fathers.” I just want to be clear this is different from folklore or folktales. The “national myth” is taught as fact, while folktales are taught as fiction. We all know that Paul Bunyan did not have a giant blue ox but did Betsey Ross sew the first American flag, and did George Washington take it into battle?
There is a great Times article discussing this exact topic. We are taught to honor the “Founding Fathers” in school without taking a close look into who they were as men. We are given token “Founding Women” jus to make the feminists happy when in reality there were no women in power. We gloss over slavery in history class and the way the Civil War is taught varies widely in the United States depending on what region of the country you live in.
The first thing I learned as a History Major is that history has a point of view. We think of history as non-partisan because it is facts that can usually be documented. But everything in history depends on the point of view of the author. And that is what historians and textbook writers are, authors. They are writing for an audience. The phrase “History is written by the victors.” which is often misattributed to Winston Churchill, is no less true.
History textbooks are designed to teach children a love for their country and the founding myths, which is why teachers have to focus on the beginning of the book and usually miss anything after World War Two because they have to spend months teaching about the Revolution and the Civil War. These textbooks are not meant to teach the reality of marginalized people. This is why my history book had a paragraph about Marylyn Monroe, to just throw a woman in there.
This backlash of conservatives, who want to believe in the story of the history they were taught, believe that we are “changing history.” This is far from true. Academics and activists, like those from the 1619 Project want to teach children more, with the hopes that teaching children that the American economy was founded on the backs of slave labour that they would be less racist. These aren’t new facts. Most people just aren’t taught them.