Time to Change American History Education for the Better

RECEIVED Mon., March 29, 2010

Dear Editor,
    Lee Nichols' “Education Fight Heads to Lege” [“Naked City,” News, March 26] updates readers on the activist organization Texas Freedom Network's attempt to appeal the Texas State Board of Education's perceived conservative politicization to the Texas Legislature via the network's “Just Educate” petition. Fighting conservative politicization with liberal politicization is a zero sum game. Our history education has a more important problem I fear has been completely lost in bickering over minutiae: the importance of providing all of our history to our students.
    I think of the conceptual triumvirate of American exceptionalism, the American dream, and manifest destiny (modern meaning) as the American ethos. (Wikipedia offers good write-ups on the three concepts.) Our history textbooks present history in a relentless monotonic American ethos drumbeat that has damaged the psyches of generations of Texas (and therefore all American) students, possibly irrevocably, and its ideological ground zero is the Texas State Board of Education.
    When the American ethos message directly conflicts with the world that students actually see, a cognitive dissonance regarding their place within their own culture develops. They internalize the conflict and begin to subconsciously believe that those who don't achieve success must not be worthy of it. Self-esteem is eradicated, self-hatred begins, and these conditions are often lifelong without the student even knowing why.
    Because there is no discussion of causes, effects, and lessons learned during history education, critical thinking skills don't develop. Because of this lack of critical-thinking skills, students who are lucky enough to eventually learn about the darker parts of our history (that our textbooks eliminate) often become ashamed of their own American heritage and distrustful of authority.
    The time has come to change American history education for the better by presenting our students with both the good and bad in our history.
Mellissa Wright
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