Teaching our children the truth

Education is a shared responsibility between teachers and parents.  

By Johnson Lazaro, Esq.

‘Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong’

The book cited above, by James W. Loewen and reissued by New Press in 2008, sits beside my bed these days and makes for some very interesting and rather unsettling reading. The subtitle conveys the gist of the book. What’s appalling is that the book presents a compelling argument that our children exit our secondary school system without the ability to think coherently about their culture and its history. Mr. Loewen purports that our kids are fed lies about their past – humans become heroes and history gets hyped – and so are incapable of thinking effectively about the present and the future.

A hero in Haiti?

One vivid detail from the book tells of how one of our so-called heroes, Christopher Columbus, treated his fellow human beings: “When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493 they demanded food, gold, spun cotton – whatever the natives had they wanted, including sex with their women. To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example. When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears and nose. Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence of the brutality the Spaniards were capable of.”

After reading about that and some other heinous acts of Columbus and his men, I don’t know if I can ever bring myself to celebrate Columbus Day again. But, inspired by the book, here are some question raised by it and here are some points I’ve drawn from it. Is it okay to be satisfied with whatever teachers offer our kids in class, whatever reading is required of them? Do we trust the school systems to provide all this important learning about culture and history? After all, we are a busy, industrious people. We parents are constantly on the go. We have to make ends meet.

Questioning curriculum

The bigger question may be: Should we just let them alone and be satisfied with this sugarcoated American history? In cases like that of Columbus, is the truth just too hard and difficult for them to bear? Of course, this makes me curious as to how much of my American history teaching in high school was censored so that I could easily digest it. Something tells me we do not trust our students to handle the truth. By doing so, do we diminish their ability to learn and understand for themselves? Do we make them stupid by withholding the hard truth from them? Can’t we trust them to think and make their own judgments about the past? If not, how can we and our school systems be trusted as good teachers?

History is boring

The author claims that history is the least liked subject in American high schools. He claims that students are often bored in their history classes. Can we blame them if all we tell them and teach them are half-truths or even lies? If all I’m offered in school is how honorable Columbus was because he courageously sailed the seas and discovered new lands and ultimately discovered America, I would get bored too. In fact, I probably nodded off through many of my history classes. If our young minds are so important to our future, why not teach them the critical thinking skills necessary for an advancing society?

U.S. lags in learning

It’s more or less common knowledge that our American students are lagging behind those of many other countries. On average, 16 other industrialized nations outperform U.S. students in the hard sciences. Twenty-three scored above us in Math. Scores in reading comprehension and the social sciences weren’t much better. In a wealthy and powerful country such as America, our students should be leading the world. But when we offer them our history through rose-colored glasses, we fail to teach them how to question, how to understand, how to reason.

Responsible adults and teachers

As adults and responsible teachers, the best lesson we can give our students is to learn to seek the truth. Let’s give them the tools necessary to find their way in society and the world. When we hold back because we fear that the truth can hurt or disappoint them, we rob them of the skills in thought and reasoning that they ultimately need to create a better world for everyone. “They must read critically, winnow fact from fraud, and seek to understand causes and results in the past,” declares the author.

By leaving the teaching to the so-called educators, we effectively are washing our hands of one of our most important obligations or responsibilities. When little Billy or Barbara comes home from school today, don’t just ask him or her how their day went. Ask them what they were taught or what they learned. To take the education of our kids for granted, to leave it entirely in the hands of others, is irresponsible. Our busy lives will always be there, but we can easily miss opportunities to mold and sculpt young minds that could be the key to making the future full of brighter possibilities. It’s an old adage: Past is prologue. But it only hangs true if what we teach about the past is the truth.

© The FilAm 2020

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