One thing almost every freshman has mentioned to me after taking some of their first history classes in college is that they feel like they had been lied to throughout high school. Some feel cheated or angry that some details of American history were left out of their previous history classes.
They come to college and go over the same material that they went over in high school, except this time, in far greater detail. Students learn things that change their perspective on their nation, but why does this not happen until college?
When are students old enough to learn about America’s imperialistic actions in Latin America? When are students old enough to learn about the creation, support, and funding of dictatorships and extremist groups to combat communism during the Cold War?
When are students old enough to learn that the factions being used as a bulwark against Communism are the same ones we have been “fighting” against since the end of the Cold War? When are students old enough to learn that America has, in fact, made mistakes?
If the answer to the above inquiries is that it would teach students to be anti-American, then what is the purpose of the educational system? If the purpose of the educational system is to produce informed individuals with tools to combat real world problems, then shouldn’t students be presented with a true picture of the real world? Is the educational system then instead a means to impose nationalism and perpetuate a sense of American exceptionalism?
As a history major who is thinking about going into education, these are very troubling yet important questions. I do not propose that every seventh grader be handed Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” It is, however, a conversation worth having.
I believe that as young adults leave high school, they do not have a complete understanding of American or world history. Unless students pursue history in college, they may never gain an understanding of the nation and world in which they live. They may never fully understand the effect that the United States has had, and still has, on a global scale.
If we do not recognize the effects of the proxy nations created into dictatorships to avoid communism, such as the arming of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, it can be a terrifying. Hindsight is 20/20, and by no means do I mean to be an apologist; however, I also do not aim to disparage our great nation.
Nevertheless, I feel as though it is of the utmost importance for our nation’s high school students to have an understanding of why the world and the United States is the way that it is. If we are scared to tell our children what our nation has done, isn’t that revealing a larger issue?
I urge anyone who teaches history to consider these questions. I would also urge everyone to consider these questions. Sometimes it is about asking the right questions, because finding the right question is often easier than finding the answer; however, it is a start.