In the novel 1984 by George Orwell, history is rewritten regularly to fit into the most recent political ideas. This concept, written in a novel 70 years ago, reflects the reality of how the history of racism is taught in the modern world. History taught in schools in the US and the UK do not portray slavery and colonialism accurately. This version of history, painted in an alternate light, is a distressing long term problem as these students grow up to vote and make decisions in society.
In a recent survey of 1,000 American high school seniors, students were asked to identify the reason that the South seceded from the United States. Out of this 1,000, only 8% correctly answered with slavery as the reason. Around half of the students surveyed answered with taxes on imported goods as the reason. This is especially concerning because students seemed to have trouble differentiating between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In the UK, the curriculum overlooks how countries such as Zimbabwe and Palestine are impoverished because of British action. These sources can help portray how students are not taught what they need to be about the impact unsavory moments in history had. This in part is due to the fact that the surviving accounts of history were more likely to come from people of status because they were literate.
It is important that students are being taught accurate accounts of history because it is an important part of breaking down racial barriers by making sure that the history of colonialism and racism are appropriately talked about. An emphasis on the correlation between the Civil War and the debate on slavery, for example, would be beneficial. Misinforming youth about the reality of the past is harmful as they begin to learn and participate in the politics today.The bias in history is dangerous because by hiding the hard facts from students, we risk allowing history to be lost in the years.
This is problem, however, that can be fixed. It can be fixed by refocusing history from being very nationalistic and instead teaching curriculums that are more inclusive of the history of other countries and more honest about racism. A quote by Donald Yacovone, the research manager at Harvard University, can illustrate the problem that the modern world faces at keeping history alive. “Few teachers and even fewer textbooks connect the nation’s slave past to the history of race relations.” Taking this perspective into account, by being more honest about the reality of racism throughout history, students are more likely to understand where the problems of the past they learned about were rooted in. Although one might say that topics of colonialism and racism are too heavy to be teaching in schools, it is important that we do so since it is harder to reteach history than to teach it right the first time. Education should be focused on preparing students for the real world.
Another way that these gaps in education can be alleviated is by integrating these topics into training teachers so that they are aware of how to appropriately address teaching racism and colonialism. Part of the reason that history is not being taught the way it should be is because topics such as these are hard to talk about. By creating a culture where educators know how to approach topics like racism appropriately without leaving out the facts about it, we are able to allow students to carry real history with them. This could be implemented by including it in trainings to acquire teaching licenses and other qualifications. One could argue that this should not be implemented because it is a political matter since opinions on whether history that is taught is racist, is a topic that is subjective. However, the facts of history itself are not subjective. These potential trainings could be aimed the idea of teaching unmodified facts about history instead of focusing on what about history should be taught.
History taught in the US and the UK, nations where racism and colonialism are large parts of history, is not reflecting this reality. By refocusing curriculums and informing educators, we are able to create a youth that is aware of the impacts of these realities to ensure that the future is full of better educated voters.
Teacher, The Secret. “Secret Teacher: the Emphasis on British History Is Depriving Students of
Balance.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 May 2018,
Turner, Cory. “Why Schools Fail To Teach Slavery’s ‘Hard History’.” NPR, NPR, 4 Feb. 2018,
Yacovone, Donald. “How Scholars Sustained White Supremacy.” The Chronicle of Higher
Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 Apr. 2018,
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