What do we do about Black History Month?

Karol Collymore

It's February and that means it's Black History Month. In this shortest month of the year, we celebrate the accomplishments of Black Americans. Because of our new president, Barack Obama (cue girlish giggles), I know it's a little different. People may wonder if we will continue to celebrate this historic month now that our country has elected an African American. I don't know the answer to that, but I have a different idea: brand new history books.

The history books our children read still neglect important, diverse aspects of our country's story. A more fleshed out, integrated history would serve us all well. We could be done with "months" of Black history, womens' history, Latino history, and the histories of other cultures we don't yet acknowledge or choose to ignore. Wouldn't it be nice to rid us all of these overtures of inclusiveness and just oh, I don't know, be inclusive?

Thoughts?

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Good question. Easy answer: continue celebrating and recognizing black history.

    Around inauguration time, media folks kept saying that Obama was "MLK's dream realized" but that's nonsense. It's a big milestone, even a "down payment" but this country still has a long road ahead...

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    It would be nice, Karol. I agree. But I don't think we're anywhere close to being there as a culture. And it's not because of latent black/white racism.

    Whatever the ongoing prejudice still faced by blacks, gays, women, hispanics, et al... they all at least get the minimal dignity of having their struggles aknowledged by the wider society. Native Americans remain the deep, dark family secret which nobody wants to aknowledge because it's just too uncomfortable.

    Unless things have radically changed since I last dug into the statistics last year, Native Americans continue to be disproportionately discriminated against and/or taken advantage of, and still nobody wants to even grant them a seat at the victim's table.

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    Whatever we do, it will serve no purpose to use this discussion as an excuse to point out people who have been "more left behind" or marginalized. This isn't a competition and the longer we respond to inequality with a "but my worse is more worse than your worse" the longer inequalities across the board will continue to exist. It is self-defeating and insulting to all involved, including those you "intend" to be defending.

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    Whatever we do, it will serve no purpose to use this discussion as an excuse to point out people who have been "more left behind" or marginalized. This isn't a competition and the longer we respond to inequality with a "but my worse is more worse than your worse" the longer inequalities across the board will continue to exist. It is self-defeating and insulting to all involved, including those you "intend" to be defending.

  • White Guy (unverified)
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    So tell me, when is White History Month?

    If ALL blacks still insist on being called African-American when most of them have so little African in them other than their color we all ignore until they need it for convienenience for handouts or bitching about how unfair life is.

    From now on i insist on being called Scotish-American and am going to protest the stereotype of groundskeeper Wille unless its written by a scotsman. That seems to be the current litmus test for entertainment.

    Black People - Get over yourselves, quit acting like gangsters, raise your kids and get with the american dream on your own like us white folk

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    Comments like those from "white guy" just make me sick. It's exactly the kind of stuff I grew up with in the South and was so happy to leave behind when I left.

    You learn about white history every single day when you're in school. Many times if it weren't for black history month, women's history month, etc., we'd barely ever cover anything having to with history other than what was done or accomplished by white men.

    If the only difference between those of us who are white and those of us who are African American is just the color of our skin, then why do we treat each other differently? Why do blacks make less on the dollar than their white counterparts? Why are so many white people so racist towards black?

    Until we can treat each other equally and each race, ethnic group, gender, etc. is treated equally, we have to do something to try to equal the playing field.

  • Garrett (unverified)
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    Hey Karol, I'm totally with this idea. Please make your new textbook affordable for our schools (when you write it), which currently can't afford to buy textbooks printed in the 2000's. I'm pretty sure most of the history books still say the Soviet Union is a country.

    Can we make new textbooks part of the stimulus?

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    i don't think it's an either-or. There's never going to be a perfect history textbook, although we can keep trying; my guess is that the existence of Black History Month has helped ensure that schools (at least some of them) pay some attention to black history, maybe read some books in addition to the regular textbook. And remember, my understanding is that the textbook market is driven by what California and Texas want, so we may have limited power over how that develops. Here's a link to an article about this debate - there's a former state legislator from New Jersey who got a bill passed to encourage schools to make history classes more inclusive in general, but he still thinks Black History Month serves a purpose. I certainly hope that this year schools in Oregon, as we celebrate our sesquicentennial, are learning about all the ghastly anti-black laws Oregon passed in the 19th century - see link below.

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-ending-black-history-month,0,3696739.story?page=2 http://www.historicoregoncity.org/HOC/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=100&Itemid=75

  • (Show?)

    So here's a good calendar for us:

    January: Japanese History Month February: Black History Month March: Irish History Month April: Carl History Month May: Native American History Month June: Chinese History Month July: Greek History Month August: French History Month September: English History Month October: Vampire History Month November: Swedish History Month December: Elf History Month

    We may have to piggy back some other groups into some other months...or make up new months.

    During the month of Mulkber, the new 13th month we can celebrate Finnish History Month. Ferdiestien the new 14th month we will celebrate Norwegian history month. Danes, Swedes, Norwegians...never confuse the three. You can get a right bonk on the head if you do.

    If we're going to treat each other equally lets just get on with it and do it. Let us instead celebrate Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination's, as my hero Gene Roddenberry would say.

    Perhaps we ought to make one of our 14 months IDIC month. Or just add a 15th month.

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    RE: Textbooks

    Not sure how long its been since anyone on BO has been in a high school US history class, but I would suggest that even be using textbooks in the traditional sense their time might be about up in our educational system. The idea that we sit down for a class and we have one book for that class that is comprehensive is gone. In 2002, my high school US history class I had to read Howard Zinn and a pile of other history texts to supplement my "textbook" (which was outdated by half a decade at the time...)

    I thought my textbook did an satisfactory job at explaining to me that our American history is filled with outrages and that minorities and the poor got/get screwed over a lot. Which ultimately should be part of the mission of the history book, to inform us of these things so we are given the chance we will not repeat them.

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    I'd love to see us move away from textbooks and have something that is digital. Something that is easy to download add-ons and updates.

    Textbooks are hugely expensive for schools. Not only that, but lugging around as many heavy books as many 7-12th graders do (not to mention college) is a real health issue.

    History is a topic that is ever changing and evolving. Most districts can't afford to update books all that often, which means students end up with books that are way out of date. I know they certainly were when I was in school. And everything I've seen since then has shown me this trend continues.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    It's worthwhile to point to great achievements by black Americans (my favorite "great" is Scott Joplin), but I can't help thinking that Black History Month is condescending. It's like a history ghetto.

    History isn't about "inclusion" anyway; it's about identifying significant events, actions, persons, etc. The race of the participants is irrelevant.

    I think that dwelling on differences is actually harmful, and not only because it's condescending. It emphasizes difference and encourages disunity.

    "White Guy" expressed himself inelegantly, and the idea of "white history month" is stupid, but he had some points. Jenni Simonis seems to have reacted more to the style than the substance of his post. I found Jenni's post far more objectionable and racist. Not to mention nauseatingly politically correct and sanctimonious. Jenni says that in order to treat each other equally we have to treat each other unequally.

    Frankly, I'm as sick as White Guy at the dual perversity that is victim-mongering and calling people racist. Emphasizing one's victimhood, even if its true, is demoralizing. Focusing on excellence is incompatible with wallowing in victimhood. "Poor me" is not the motto of victors.

    Also, many people, White Guy no doubt included, go about their business, do their duty, mean no one any harm without good reason, and actually are very careful about treating people based on their character, not their race. People who live life this way get a little fed up hearing what racists they are and how they're keeping other people down. I would bet that if anyone asks White Guy whether he believes racism exists, he'd say "sure"; but acknowledging various types of racism (including between "minorities" and by minorities against whites) does not mean that blacks' or native Americans problems are caused by whites.

    Who can reasonably object to the point about gangsterism? There are serious pathologies in the black population (and to Kevin's point, among native Americans) that have nothing to do with white people and can only be solved internally, as it were—though everybody should encourage and support positive change.

    It is important that black youth learn about great black Americans because they serve as examples. However, the most important examples black kids need are their own parents. Unfortunately, it's a minority of black kids who can count on both of their parents. If you want to know what keeps black people down, look no further than that. Whatever influence lingering racism might have, it's nothing compared to the catastrophe that is the abandonment of black kids by their fathers.

    If we want to have more great black figures in history, then we should be fighting to encourage a more loving upbringing for black kids. Among other devastating and very well documented consequences of this problem, society at large is deprived of a tremendous amount of talent and, no doubt, greatness.

    The same goes for white kids and hispanic kids, of course, since this problem has no racial basis and has had similar effects in countries where there are relatively few blacks. However, it does affect black kids proportionately far more in the United States. Addressing this problem matters a heck of a lot more than gestures of "inclusiveness."

  • BOHICA (unverified)
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    Jenni Simonis "History is a topic that is ever changing and evolving." The interpretation of history "is ever changing and evolving" as new material is discovered. History cannot change. The propagandizing of history is what is the real danger. Or as my friend Mike Hastie says:

    The reason people don't learn from the past, is because the past was a repetitious lie to begin with.

    The reason we get sucked into so many foreign mis-adventures (wars) is the powers that be don't bother to learn about the histories of the countries/cultures we are decide to interfere with. Did Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson or Nixon know that Ho Chi Minh was our ally at the end of WWII and stated, "We'll take a million Americans but no French." Or that Vietnam and China were bitter enemies for centuries? History is replete with these kinds of examples.

    My majors in college were history and archeology. I was fortunate to have had some great instructors with a passion for their discipline. One of the best classes I took was "biographies". It can really put into context a period of history as experienced by those profiled.

    Karol Collymore A more fleshed out, integrated history would serve us all well.

    A more accurate, fleshed out history would be good too. The idea of school boards deciding what interpretation of history should be presented sends a chill down my spine. Do I have an alternative? Not off the top of my head, but there has to be a better way. One of the pleasures I have in life is being invited into High Schools to talk about my experiences as a veteran. I always start with the old saying, "Question authority. Don't take my word for everything I say, check it out." That is the lesson we should be teaching our students, question everything. Otherwise we get this:

    It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion. --Joseph Goebbels
  • Terry O (unverified)
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    I think President Obama is only one step in diversity. MLK was one step. Rosa Parks was one step. Ceasar Chavez was one step. All are steps, not the end of recognition.

    Ultimately, we'd move away from black history month and we'd move into daily diverse history teaching. That can only happen over time and will only happen as more people create more steps in the stairway of history.

  • Terry O (unverified)
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    Jenni, I think the idea of electronic text books is scary. I'm also surprised the idea came from you. One who so adamantly opposed a sales tax for single reason that $20 per month could affect a families budget. How would you propose that low income families support the technology of electronic text books? Does the school pay for an electronic device for all kids? Perhaps a computer? What about Internet access? Web filter software to keep them safe online? HUGE economic task.

    Aside from the economics, the idea of further desensitizing our kids and forcing them to live in front of a computer is dangerous. When the concept of a history book becomes part of history itself, that's scary.

    If anything, to address the concern of books that are too big. I'd prefer to see kids have smaller textbooks that cover a specific subject for a month, rather than a single text book that is supposed to cover a years worth of information. The smaller books could be modified, swapped out, or added to.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    I think Jenni's idea about electronic texts has merit, at least if one could get the intellectual property without spending as much.

    When I studied at a provincial university in Argentina, professors and students reproduced texts and bound them into folders. Local stationery stores would put the texts in convenient and reasonably durable binders for a reasonable price.

    The big obstacle would be what you might call the text book industrial complex.

  • Roy M (unverified)
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    Karol, call me old fashioned (and you would not be the first), but I kind of like it the way it is now. I know things will likely change as brown, white, and black history becomes even more intertwined, but I have enjoyed black history month. It is a time when there are usually provocative stories, specials on television, and news articles about the history of various black peoples of America. I can compare the historical information provided with what I learned growing up, and make sense of it all. Any newly written history books will be for the youngsters, and I may not have the opportunity to read all of those books. I think black history month has done a lot to get us to better place. Maybe it's to early to say goodbye.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Carl Fisher sez: "I thought my textbook did an satisfactory job at explaining to me that our American history is filled with outrages and that minorities and the poor got/get screwed over a lot. Which ultimately should be part of the mission of the history book, to inform us of these things so we are given the chance we will not repeat them."

    That was most definitely not true for me. (I graduated from high school in 1972.) My daughter's textbooks are one hell of a lot different than mine were. Change happens....slowly.

    <hr/>

    But don't the arguments here sort of miss the central point? When I was in school, "US history" was still, for all intents and purposes, "the history of propertied white males and those they hired to fight their wars." You don't get from THAT to the presumably desired state--the inclusion of male and female, rich and poor, white and non-white--without conscious effort.

    A look at this article in The Atlantic would be worthwhile, too.

  • Thomas Elby (unverified)
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    Not to diminish the observance, but I think it's kind of like Scrooge living Christmas in his heart every day. You either live it as a part of your consciousness or a declared month doesn't mean much.

    Today is very poignant for me in that regard. Today Obama visited my boyhood town of Elkhart, Indiana to sell the stimulus package. Elkhart doesn't get too many politicians visiting. My first memory was LBJ declaring nearby Dunlap a disaster area after the Palm Sunday Tornado, and he paid a visit. Next and last time I remember getting a visit from a major politico, was when Bobby Kennedy came to campaign for the Indiana primary, in 1968. It was the same hope and change experience that the youth of today felt with Obama. We picked up everything we could and became major junior campaign workers.

    Later that night, we heard the news that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. Besides the dashing of all the hope and vision of the day, Indiana was a very racist place, and the adult populace were not a comfort to those inspired youth. That night Bobby Kennedy gave a major, inspirational campaign speech in Indianapolis, and it was the only major US city that did not suffer riots.

    A Black President coming there during Black History Month is a real contrast. I find it interesting that he picked Carmel, IN to visit, as it was one of the 19th century "utopian communites", centered on an abbey.

  • Jiang (unverified)
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    Posted by: White Guy | Feb 8, 2009 9:49:39 PM

    So tell me, when is White History Month?

    That would be a trial. At best a truth and reconciliation forum, but I would prefer a trial. That has a nice ring to it, "On Trial: White History Month". Oh, I do like that.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    People may wonder if we will continue to celebrate this historic month now that our country has elected an African American. I don't know the answer to that, but I have a different idea: brand new history books. The history books our children read still neglect important, diverse aspects of our country's story.

    The problem with history is that so few learn it, regardless of the availability of textbooks. There is more than enough material on the Internet to provide the information necessary for students to become informed, but without teachers - and parents - encouraging students to appreciate the importance of historical knowledge it is a waste except for the few that utilize it.

    Then, again, there is the other problem of people knowing something of history but ignoring it when it is politically, financially (in the short-term) or ideologically expedient to do so. Witness the Glass-Seagall Act that was shredded to make way for deregulation of banks to grease the skids for our current economic problems.

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    A friend of mine teaches American history by beginning with the Civil Rights movement of the late 50s through 60s as a way to get relevance into the curriculum quickly, then go back and build on that theme. As ridiculous or narrow-minded Puritans or Conquistadors (if you come from New Mexico, KC) may seem today, the initial goals and promises that they tried to seize for themselves ended up being a large part of the current American ideal of equality before God and the law.

    These are not universal ideals in this best of all possible worlds and western civilization, as full of faults as it is, should be recognized for that singular achievement.

    To make ideas of the dead white males in powdered wigs and to-die-for shoes relevant today, there is no reason not to begin at the end--today--and work backwards to show the lines of development; i.e. we stand on the shoulders of giants, lots of them. The present is much too present in our minds today, and whatever breakthrough works to give kids (and adults) some perspective is worth trying.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    So tell me, when is White History Month?

    Given the history of the world - The Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, European colonization and American expansion into the West resulting in slaughter and enslavement of indigenous peoples, etc. - it is clearly in the interest of whites with racial bias to not expose the sins of their forebearers to the uninformed.

    The present is much too present in our minds today, and whatever breakthrough works to give kids (and adults) some perspective is worth trying.

    Lewis Lapham's essay in Harper's (harpers dot org) on the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BC) clearly demonstrated the relevancy of that ancient strife to the Iraq war and to the on-going and expanding war in Afghanistan.

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    Actually, Bill, the cherry-picking in your list of crimes above--no mention of the Arab, Mongol, or Turkish invasions of Europe, or their centuries of slave raids?--indicates your view of European history is rather narrow, though after reading your comments here for so long I suspect you are better informed than that single statement indicates. Europe had plenty of experience as victim over the years.

    Pointing out victimization on behalf of your ancestors is useful if it points to current problems which need to be addressed or redressed; but only seeing one side of things and writing off centuries of cultural reactions and development as "sins of their forebearers" sells a lot of people short.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    Bill Bodden's post is instructive, albeit in a horribly perverse way. He (along with the racist post of Jiang) characterizes the white race with a kind of selective generalization that would be completely beyond the pale if it were used against other races. But he does it in what you might call a white-narcissist way. White people play the starring role in history. It reminds me of Steven Colbert's take on MLK day a few years ago on the Daily Show. Jon Stewart goes through a litany of colonialist offenses, etc., Colbert thinks for a moment then says, "Fighting Whiteys kick ass!"

    Jamais's right: how about a little credit for the Islamic, Aztec and Incas conquistadores and all the rest?

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Jamais vu and Idler: My comment was in response to "White Guy" hence the one-sided appearance. Of course, there are favorable events related to whites, and any other race for that matter, but I didn't believe that I needed to cite the obvious.

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    Actually, history does change every day. We add to history every single day with the events of yesterday. When I was in the 8th grade, the Berlin Wall fell and Germany became one. But our history books through high school still had it the old way. Same thing with Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and USSR. While the changes in those countries were building up over a period of decades or years, in one day those countries ceased to exist and became new countries. We get a new President. There is major upheaval in a country and it brings us into a new war. Whatever it may be, history changes every day because we add yesterday to that history. And while some days may be pretty mundane in comparison to what's already in the history books, some "yesterdays" include things like the falling of the Berlin Wall or the end of the Cold War. And having kids study with books for years that are incorrect is just wrong.

    When I lived in Texas, I was working with State Representative Craig Eiland on a plan to replace text books whenever possible with electronic books. We found that for the price of one student's books in classes like history, literature, and science that we could replace the book with a laptop and an electronic version of the book. An electronic version that could have video of things like reenactments of battles, of chemical reactions, and parts of a play the student was studying. This was a decade ago when laptops were much more expensive than they are now. Textbooks have only gone up in cost; laptops have decreased.

    There are a whole lot of details that I won't go into now, but a fairly detailed plan was set forth to do this. A benefit of this was that students in households that could not afford a computer would now have one to type their reports in, as is required by many schools now. I know our district had a lot of poor kids and there was never enough slots available in the one computer lab for everyone. I typically let all my friends who couldn't afford a computer come over and use ours to type up their reports. Students would then only have to send their report to one of the school's networked printers once they got back to school.

    We have a charter school that Gresham Barlow is putting in that will be using laptops for all students (provided by the school district). I'm curious to see how things go with it.

    I don't think people get how expensive textbooks can be. One textbook for a student can cost a few hundred dollars. It is not out of the ordinary for a district to only be able to afford one set per classroom. So say your English teacher has 5 classes a day with 30 students each - she only has one set of 30 books. So needless to say there is a rush on books whenever there is studying to do or take home work. And 5 out of 6 students are left without a book. My Pre-Cal class had one book, which the teacher copied every day for us. And let me tell you - keeping tabs on copied sheets of paper is a whole lot harder to do than a textbook.

    And no, I don't think it is racist for us to have Black History Month, Women's History Month, etc. Until we get to the point where we discuss achievements and moments in history regarding other people besides white men, we need that to ensure some equity. If it weren't for those months, it is unlikely that kids would learn about important figures and events in history. Heck, my home school district still skips over people like MLK and Susan B. Anthony. I'd love to see the day where we don't need to have Black History Month, Women's History Month, etc. But that time is not now. There are very important figures and events in history that deal with women, people of color, certain ethnic groups, etc. And right now it is only because of those special history months that many students and people in general learn anything about them.

    While I was in high school, a member of our school board started pushing for white history only in our schools. And surprisingly it came close to going through. Why did they want it that way? Because only white males and what they did was important to our history and this nation. And believe me, my district was not the only one.

    When I asked people in my high school if they could name any blacks in history that made great achievements, they could name only one - MLK. And that was because he had a day named after him and they learned a tiny bit about him during Black History Month. That was it. Ask them about a woman and most couldn't name a single one. Ask about white males, and they couldn't stop listing names.

    Until our textbooks and our curriculum give an even view of all the ethnic groups, races, and genders in our country's history, there has to be some kind of supplement.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    Bill, I didn’t read you carefully enough. My apologies.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    When I asked people in my high school if they could name any blacks in history that made great achievements, they could name only one - MLK. And that was because he had a day named after him and they learned a tiny bit about him during Black History Month. That was it. Ask them about a woman and most couldn't name a single one. Ask about white males, and they couldn't stop listing names.

    Until our textbooks and our curriculum give an even view of all the ethnic groups, races, and genders in our country's history, there has to be some kind of supplement.

    Should students be aware of the significant contributions of black Americans? Of course. But the standard is "significant contributions" not black, white or whatever. Race is irrelevant. If the deeds of great black Americans aren't significantly covered, that's a problem of incompleteness, not of "equity." There is no automatic distribution of coverage.

    Also, history is not social studies (or whatever that might be called these days). There's a place for studying population and customs specifically, and those things are sometimes part of history and necessary to explain certain historical figures and events. But history is not about those things.

    Perhaps Black History Month is a good idea, but I do think it's problematic in the way that Karol seems to sense. Maybe it would be better if we had other themed months just so there was less of a stigma of separation. I do think it's a good civics lesson to point out the contributions that different ethnicities have made, and not only the great figures, but the people generally, as that is an important part of economic history. No doubt it helps black children to see that there have been great people in the past like them. Obviously that point shouldn't be ghettoized either: great black Americans are great Americans first, they belong to all of us, and they should be held as examples for all students.

    At the same time, the fact that the only great black American that people in your school could name was MLK is not because we have no Black History Month; it's because people aren't learning what's been taught for decades. I learned about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman at school in the 1970s (I guess you could put MLK in there, though from an adult point of view he was more or less contemporary at that time. We were certainly taught about him).

    It seems as if the problem is that kids simply don't learn enough, not that they don't learn all the right things. Making history into a game of ethnic representation is just another distraction from scholarship.

  • Ashma Sultan (unverified)
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    Blacks can be ignorant of Black History too. My first major purchase after getting a job out of college was the hardback, expensive, "Collected Works of Marcus Garvey". I needed a pair of Nikes at the time, but bought that first. How many Black youth would do that? The lack of appreciation isn't limited to whites.

    I find Blacks to be just like Jenni's Texans. They know the ones that are advertised during Black History Month. Take the Sultan Challenge. Ask Blacks in Portland what they think about Black History Month. Ask the ones that say it's very important that others learn what they know to tell you something about Marcus Garvey. Bummer, he wasn't covered in the adverts. No lie, at this point I would be happy to hear, "I've heard that name"...

  • JJ Ferguson (unverified)
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    Making history into a game of ethnic representation is just another distraction from scholarship

    That's an excellent point. We hear uniforms are a good idea, we hear separating students by sex is a good idea, we hear not displaying gratuituous bling in schools is a good idea, all because they are distractions. True. And then the school district takes the biggest distractor of all, race, and asks students to focus on it.

    We need more humility in discussing education. There is little in the tone of most debate that reminds one that we have failed and failed and failed and failed in this regard. We are behind the entire developed world and a good portion of the developing world. How many times do you hear Castro's Cuba disparaged because it is "a horrible place to live"? Their education is so vastly superior to ours it would take us a generation to catch up, even if they stood still.

    We have never grown up enough to make education about education and the curriculum about life. Every statement in the US "sends a message". We sit there all day crafting the message and no actual content gets communicated. It is why totalitarian states are dumb. Yeah, that makes us more totalitarian than Cuba. The stoopid sheep will only look at facile definitions and say that the statement is absurd. We're a vibrant democracy and they're a dictatorship. Whatever. Their kids are much better educated, and, from that, I conclude, loved.

    I really enjoyed looking up what Jenni was saying on laptops and textbooks. That was a great contri! Occasionally I remember why I wade through this blog.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    I really enjoyed looking up what Jenni was saying on laptops and textbooks. That was a great contri! Occasionally I remember why I wade through this blog.

    Agreed, and I would nominate Jenni's comments or a revision if she feels it necessary for a new thread.

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    It wasn't just contemporary blacks. Harriet Tubman? Fredrick Douglas? Unless you were in the honors history class (where we had a great teacher who tried to be very thorough), there was literally about 1 sentence spent on people like this.

    History for many students has been scrubbed down to be very white. Customs, events, people, etc. from other races and ethnic group have pretty much been cut from the curriculum. And it's not just the teachers or the districts deciding to do this - it's often times the textbooks and curriculum that is missing the information. It's pretty bad when a history book has more on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair that it did on influential African Americans, Asians, etc.

    I was lucky in that I had a great history teacher who supplemented what we learned with other books we had to read (such as All Quiet on the Western Front).

    I'm all for expanding the themes. But I think what we need to do is make those themed months mean something. Not just a PSA on TV and some sales in the stores. But really teach people about influential people, important dates in history, how their customs made our country what it is today, etc. It needs to be a real chance to learn something about another culture (or even your own culture). Right now I don't think we take advantage of it to its fullest.

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    Forget "black history month", how about true history year?

    The only reason we have "black history" is because American history textbooks are written to foist conservative lies onto schoolchildren. White racists don't want Christopher Columbus to be known as a man who burned a man alive to show that he could. They want so called "carpet-baggers" to be portrayed as villains interested in using blacks for nefarious political purposes, instead of what they were, liberal christian northerners who came to help teach literacy to southern slaves during the reconstruction. They've succeeded in excising nearly all the contributions of all minority groups excised from regular history, so we have to have special "black history" to try to make up the difference.

    When all history books have blacks and other minorities restored to their rightful place, then we won't have to have "black history month". We can just have history.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    There is an enormous wealth of historical information from reliable sources on the Internet. Just for the heck of it, try these searches:

    "peloponnesian wars" (as I said above, Lewis Lapham showed the relevancy of these wars to the war on Iraq. Now that continues with Afghanistan.)

    "american revolution war"

    "american civil war"

    "first world war"

    "second world war"

    "nuremberg trials"

    "great depression"

    "spanish exploration conquistadors"

    "africa colonialism"

    Given the fact that we have had books published such as "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong" by James Loewen, a former history teacher, an excellent case can be made for scrapping traditional textbooks and switching to the Internet.

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)
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    My history teacher was the football coach. He had never read the book (this was way before computers in schools). The book itself only went through 1946 (this was in the early 80s). The last time I checked my old high school in 2005 in Oklahoma, one of the kids proudly showed me their new history books---which went through 1969.

    I'm with Jenni's idea of e-books or laptops. The technology is only going to get better, it's as cheap or cheaper than textbooks anymore, you don't have to worry about lacking books for the kids, and you can keep the books updated--at least cover the previous decade, c'mon!

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Bill, I didn’t read you carefully enough. My apologies.

    Let me compliment you on this, Idler. It is very rare for anyone on this blog to admit to an error other than by changing the subject or dummying up.

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    Yea, just after I graduated, my high school got some new history books. I went through and found numerous factual errors myself, some of them huge errors (such as which country won a major war).

    History textbooks are well known to have major inaccuracies in them. Add in the fact that Texas is the state often times deciding the content of those books, and they end up even more off because of the way my home state likes to remember history.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Add in the fact that Texas is the state often times deciding the content of those books...

    Yeah, and like we haven't suffered enough from their school book depositories!

  • Idler (unverified)
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    Bill, thanks for the compliment. I'm not ashamed to admit that sometimes, in my ethusiasm for a good argument, I might shoot something out there a little hastily.

    With regard to some of the later comments, I still think that the emphasis on ethnicity in history is misconceived and potentially counterproductive.

    I am staunchly in favor of broader education of American students in the nation's diverse sources of population, as well as learning about other cultures. Like students other English speaking nations, Americans don't seem to have done very well learning foreign language. I'd like to see improvemet there too.

    But when it comes to history, I insist that ethnicity is not a criterion for inclusion. Black History Month may be a fun addition to the conversation, with the caveats I've already expressed.

    I think that saying it has been "scrubbed white" or whatever verges on paranoia. White individuals predominate in American history because the nation was founded by white people and dominated by white people in both raw population numbers and social rank. The culture of Western Europe provides the foundation of social norms and legal culture in the U.S.. The U.S. Constitution was written by white people and hardly any non-white people have held high office. Consequently there has been a relatively very small number of non-white people involved in major events, actions, decisions. That is obviously changing with time, as people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds have reached higher, more influential social positions.

    Steve rants about "white racists" not wanting Christopher Columbus to be known as someone who burned alive a man "to show that he could." First of all, much of the typical brutality of history need not be dwelt upon in gruesome detail in books for children. Secondly, some degree of mythologizing is inevitable and healthy. A nation needs its heroes, and history for children is necessarily much abridged.

    One seems to hear ad nauseam these days about the supposed crimes of the white race or European culture while supressing appreciation of the tremendous, disproportionately large contributions Europeans have made to the world. Popular culture is replete with white villains and "noble savages," including cartoons and movies for young children. I suspect that some of the commentators here are showing their age, in that respect.

    High school students should be acquainted with the darker side of history much more than younger pupils; they should be presented with the good and the bad in a more neutral fashion. However, a relentless focus on supposed faults at the expense of accomplishments is corrosive of national culture and a sense of common purpose.

  • Selena Deckelmann (unverified)
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    Karol - we do need new textbooks.

    I wonder if we started with something like a People's History of the United States (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_People%27s_History_of_the_United_States), wiki-fied it... I wonder if that would work? I wonder if Howard Zinn could be convinced to donate his work?

    Anyway, might be complete failure, but based on what I see teachers doing these days -- relying on their education, personal book collections and primary sources from the internet -- a wiki seems like a tool that teachers could use and contribute to in a way that a book may not ultimately be.

    The key is getting a few interested teachers who have some extra time on their hands to garden the wiki for a while, and get others excited and committed to it. I'd love to help facilitate that process if it sounds interesting to you.

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    Could I just ask how many people here actually have children in our public schools? Not trying to be snarky, but I have four kids in the PPS (wait, make that three, the fourth is now at PSU), and given that I am a professional social scientist, I suppose I feel like I can speak with some experience.

    Karol asks a really important question, but I think it has to be first informed by what our children CURRENTLY learn.

    And given my preference for being provocative, let me provoke by suggesting that Karol has it completely backwards, as do many here.

    There is no shortage of ethnic history in our schools. My children--even the 8 year old--know Black history amazingly well. They can tell you far more than just about MLK, they know about the slave trade, about Frederick Douglass, about the freedom road, about the voting rights movement, about current struggles.

    What they DON'T know about is the basic facts of American or world history.

    My 10th grader--and folks this is a smart girl, an A student--cannot tell you any basic facts of the Civil War. She can't even name with decades a number of famous US presidents. The Revolutionary period? Surely you're joking. The Magna Carta? The French Revolution? Wow. You are really stretching.

    But hey, she DOES know a lot about Lewis and Clark. And the Oregon Trail.

    I guess my response to Karol is yes, we should continue to teach about Black History Month. The schools do an excellent job teaching African American history.

    The problem in our educational curriculum is basic history has been almost completely pushed out by history du jour, Black history, Native American history, Latino history, Oregon history. And the loss is basic American and World history.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    First of all, much of the typical brutality of history need not be dwelt upon in gruesome detail in books for children

    Funny, Catholic nuns- and as educations go it's a pretty good one- have definitely considered that it was critically necessary to explain to children of any age, exactly, in vivid details, what it was that the Indians did to St. Isaac Jogues and his companions. When your parents tell you their history, and don't mention that your older brother was born 5 months after they were married, is that history? Hiding the gruesome details? It's shame.

    You don't have to cherry pick details. The basics aren't told. "Columbus sailed West, looking for the Spice Islands, so they could trade". We ignore that he knew there was a land mass in between and that he took not one thing to trade. Those aren't gory details. It's the story. One can't tell the truth in history. The process that led to that spin is still in place, still promoting the same agenda. You don't get the real version of events for exactly the same reason that the folks back home didn't, in the 15th century. You are no better off. That's the #1 fiction that the texts are trying to promote; our steady progress.

    This all reminds me of a friend that never does what anyone suggests, always gets it wrong, then, much later, always says, "I was young and stupid". What we did yesterday was always because we were young and stupid, but that was yesterday, today's today and we don't do that anymore. Except we do.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    I'm not sure I understand the relevance of what you're saying to the discussion, Zarathustra.

    If all history is lies, then what's the point of any of this?

    Otherwise, do history books not teach about the conquest and colonization of the New World? Would they be incomplete basic instruction for children unless they focus in detail on the worst cruelties of perpetrated by the conquerors (and the natives?)? What exactly are you prescribing?

  • DENNY DOWNS (unverified)
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    [Racist comment removed. -editor.]

  • Ms Mel Harmon (unverified)
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    Has anyone ever noticed how when someone starts a sentence with "not trying to be" xxxx, then invariably go on to "BE" xxxx?

    Paul writes:Could I just ask how many people here actually have children in our public schools? Not trying to be snarky, but I have four kids in the PPS (wait, make that three, the fourth is now at PSU), and given that I am a professional social scientist, I suppose I feel like I can speak with some experience.

    Paul,

    Since I have no kids, I don't know what's being taught in schools right now? Is that your argument? Are you asking whether we have kids so you can give less weight to the statements and ideas of those of us with no kids in the public school system? If that's the case, I guess that I shouldn't be commenting at all on this thread since--oops! I didn't bear children.

    My taxes help pay for your kid's education and textbooks. Your kids are going to be my doctor, lawyer, accountant, the business owner down the street, my elected official and yes, future teachers. So, no, I don't have any kids in the public schools....but I've seen what's in the PPS system (and in East County)for textbooks, I follow the debates on education spending and if you listen to everyone and not just people with kids in the current system, you might get some new ideas...or is that too open-minded for you?

    And for what it's worth, since I hadn't weighed in exactly on Karol's idea...my opinion is that I agree that we need to move beyond holding different months for different histories and, as she said, actually be inclusive so that the history lessons our kids receive include everyone of all races and genders. The local schools do not do that currently, either in their books or their daily lesson plans... but since I don't have kids, feel free to discount my opinion and scroll on by.

  • DENNY DOWNS (unverified)
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    [Racist comment removed. -editor.]

  • Idler (unverified)
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    we need to ... actually be inclusive so that the history lessons our kids receive include everyone of all races and genders.

    What we need to do is teach history based on the significance of events and persons, not based on the desire to be inclusive.

    No genuinely important figure should be omitted on the basis of race, ethnicity, etc., but nor should they be shoehorned in gratuitously.

    "Inclusiveness" is not a criterion of scholarship. It belongs in politics, not in education.

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    I think the imbecile posting here under the name "Denny Downs" makes the point beautifully that we do need to continue celebrating a Black History month.

  • Idler (unverified)
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    The likes of "Denny Down" are clearly not susceptible to education. In any case, one wonders if guys like him would have anything to live for if it weren't for Black History Month.

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    Paul, as a teacher of an elective class called Diversity in America which in 6 weeks has 8th graders study the major events in U.S. history (to get some sort of a context), the history of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and women, as well as immigration history, and the Holocaust I would like to profoundly second your interpretation of history as taught in many of our schools. We concentrate on certain limited aspects of history so kids have real difficulty putting things in context and understanding the basic concepts.

    But it is not just history in which we do this. We do it in several disciplines including geography, science, math, English, writing, government, and health. Young children need a base on which to build. We have forgotten this. If you know the Civil War in detail but have no idea of the differences between World War I and World War II, or between the Korean War or the Vietnam War, then it is hard to understand events which took place during those times even if you have a good grasp of the Civil War.

    Yet, education persists.

    P.S. I say keep African American history month. Doesn't hurt anything and a lot of people learn something about black history.

    <h2>P.S.S. I co-authored the PPS desegregation plan which years ago (early 1980's) pushed for inclusion of black history into Portland's schools. Glad to see it is still around since it is incredibly important for African-American students to understand their roots, and it is also an important part of history in general. Too bad that PPS has emphasized testing to the point that it pushes out a good deal of the social sciences, particularly in poor schools.</h2>

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