Michael Matteo: So, how should history be taught?

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Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

When you go to a restaurant, it’s impossible to eat everything on the menu because people only have so much room in their stomachs.  A basic economic reality is the principle of opportunity cost, which, broken down to its simplest form (so even someone like AOC could understand it) is the fact that resources are limited and YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING!  In a classroom there are only a limited number of minutes to teach history, so a decision has to be made about what history is taught.

In 1984 George Orwell wrote: ‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.’  This statement explains why history is important.  It is vital that history must be taught in an objective way that helps students to understand what happened before they were born to make a better world in the present and for the future.  This cannot be achieved through historical revisionism that paints a skewed picture of the past to suit the schema of self-serving indoctrinators.

The recent furor over critical race theory is a perfect example of an agenda-driven curriculum that has infiltrated history classrooms all over the country.  CRT embraces all that is wrong with America and pushes the narrative that systemic racism makes America an evil country.  This idea pacifies those who want to embrace identity politics, socialism and individuals who want to believe America is this evil empire with only two groups of people: oppressors and the oppressed.  Furthermore, those supporting it selectively want to focus on one aspect of history and ignore the basic premise that the purpose of history is to learn from the past.

Most educators (even the ANTIFA loving ones) would agree that the purpose of teaching history is to avoid repeating past mistakes. History is long, and just announcing the names of everyone who ever did something minimally notable, which would allow them to have a page on Wikipedia would take more time than the four years most students dedicate to attending high school.  Therein, lies the problem: time, is a limited resource and education is time dependent.  This requires a second requirement for teaching history: relevancy.  If the purpose of teaching history is to learn from past mistakes, the focus should be on the greatest mistakes that have ever been made, and build a history curriculum around the analysis of why these mistakes were made so they won’t be made again.  This would allow students to utilize critical thinking skills to develop an understanding of how people of the past dealt with similar issues to what we face in today’s world.

The problem is that those individuals who are making educational decisions are infusing their own myopic view that American and world history are unidimensional subjects with the culprit being the white man and systemic racism.  It is a tiring chorus sung by those on the left and evokes the image of being trapped in an elevator and being forced to listen to the same bad song over and over again.  All historians acknowledge that racism has been a factor in many aspects of American history, but history also demonstrates that past events are neither fair nor equitable in terms of representation of all ethnicities, races, or gender.  You cannot quantify history by attempting to revise it to give everyone equal representation because no historical figure ever sat back and said, “Hey, we’ve had enough people of this race or ethnicity doing great things, so I’ll wait to give someone else a chance.”  The common quest for those on the left is to make history diverse, but that doesn’t tell the true story of the past and the notion that a kid opening a history book needs to see someone who shares his race, gender or phenotype forces that student to focus on what is superficial, not practical in terms of learning.

Should a student open up a history book and look for photos and illustrations of someone that looks like him/her to feel good about himself/herself?  The idea that history needs to be diverse; therefore, representative of everyone of every race because kids need to “see” someone who looks like them ignores the fact that the teaching of history must be issue based and not made personal.  Kids should be inspired to do great things by being told about the great things that others have done in the past.  Can’t a black student celebrate the achievements of Albert Einstein and attempt to emulate what Einstein gave to the world or is that student limited to only emulating famous black males?  Did Hillary Clinton need to be elected as the first female president for young women to believe they have the opportunity to become president?

Some liberals argue that history classes are too Eurocentric and involve teaching about “too many white males.”  They demand diversity, however, when comparing who had the greatest impact on civilization be more important than the identity of the person who did something worthy of being taught?   Perhaps a lesson on why white males do dominate European history (that doesn’t come down to name calling or generalizations by biased teachers) could help the history we create today be more naturally diverse.  It might encourage less represented historical groups to aspire to do great things in the present. Those preaching diversity deny that European history was dominated by white males, but that is untrue.  European explorers who discovered America, colonized America and helped America become an independent nation were white males, therefore, their achievements, as well as their failures, are a big part of what is written in American history books. The problem is that this obsession with identity politics has infected our classrooms as much as it has impacted our courtrooms and political institutions.  A person’s race, religion, gender etc. are now more important than the actions or contributions made by that person, which is irresponsible education.

Designing a history curriculum is about making difficult choices, but these choices must be made to maximize the learning experience for students and allow them to exercise critical thinking skills.  History is not about names and dates, it’s about the issues that have impacted the present.  Developing an issue driven curriculum would address issues of racism, sexism and the lack of diversity in western civilization history courses.  Expanding the course choices for students who can study other civilizations is also an option.  Teaching students about achievements and failures of historical figures must take precedence over making it about the tabloid nature of the personalities of long dead people who cannot defend themselves; this will help student learn history, engage in critical thinking and make better decisions that will help future generations avoid past mistakes.


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