History lessons often don’t tell the whole story

“I think people honestly underestimate the strength and resilience of what it means to learn from the past with a cultural context,” said a mother from Colorado.

DENVER — There’s a version of American history students in K-12 classrooms, most of whom lack perspectives from communities of color.

From a European point of view, Christopher Columbus discovered America. From an aboriginal perspective, Columbus and other European explorers stole the homelands of various aboriginal tribes.

“The United States was a territory inhabited by indigenous people, then there were European settlers who came, colonized and formed a government. It’s just a fact, you can have feelings about it, but it’s a fact, to say otherwise would be to be inaccurate,” said Dr. Jennifer Ho, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“Individuals, as well as people connected to the US government, like Thomas Jefferson, bought people from Africa, enslaved them to work on his property without any pay, right? That’s the system of property slavery. It just happened.”

Dr. Ho added that most of us don’t have an accurate idea of ​​US history based solely on what we’re taught in K-12 grades.

“It’s uncomfortable to learn these things, but it’s better to know the truth about our history, than to sugarcoat it and somehow think our children can’t digest it. complex things,” Dr. Ho said. She said she was often accused of being anti-American when discussing issues of race and anti-racism in America.

To that, his response is “You don’t give the United States enough credit. You don’t give the United States democracy and government enough credit that if you want something to improve, you want to fix it, you want to fix the mistakes, you say this is the way forward.”

The Colorado Department of Education is currently reviewing and revising the state standards for social studies courses. The Social Studies Review and Review Committee welcomes public comments on their written revisions until February 1, 2022. You can learn more about using the online system to provide feedback here.

The Colorado Department of Education’s Associate Commissioner for Student Learning, Melissa Colsman, said they will take public feedback and present their recommendations to the board in March 2022. If approved, districts will then have two years to adopt the new standards.

“With anything related to education, you always want to make sure that you always have the opportunity to refresh yourself and review regularly, make sure that the most important content that children should learn is reflected in these standards”, Colsman said.

Learning with cultural context

Renee and Beto Millard-Chacon are raising two Native and Chicano boys.

“My kids are native and I still have to teach them that this is Ute, Cheyenne, Arapahoe country and yet they’re not taught that in school,” Renee said.

The books in their house are filled with stories they wish their children had learned in school. One of them is “Cesar Chavez and La Causa”, a picture book detailing the life of the Mexican American leader who advocated for the civil rights of agricultural workers.

Another is “The Return of the Indian” by Phillip Wearne. In her book, Wearne identifies the number and types of Indigenous peoples today.

“I made a point of my kids seeing that when you learn about cultural identity in your upbringing, it’s transformative,” Renee said.

“The reluctance to teach our children as they grow up allows them to grow into adults who ignore the issue,” Beto added.

It was not until the age of 15 that Millard-Chacon learned that Kit Carson had played a major role in The Long March of the Navajos.

She recounted when her son learned about Kit Carson at school during a Thanksgiving lesson. At the time, his family was living in California.

“They were talking about the pioneers of the west and Kit Carson. My son was about 4 or 5 at the time,” she said.

“I actually talked about it with his teacher, and I told him the truth, that we were also part of Diné, I don’t feel comfortable that he was learning Kit Carson in this way without any context. and if she was okay. And she was, she was super receptive the moment she asked me to come and tell the class about it.”

Learn how history informs the present

In a different house, Monica Williams knows that not everyone is used to having conversations about race.

However, she is unable to avoid discussing race with her sons.

“Oh my God, we’ve had these conversations since elementary school,” she said. “I’m teaching my kids to stand up for themselves and to understand that they can’t be average. They have to be better than average to be seen even as equals.”

Williams believes that history helps inform the present and that it is important for children to understand this history as well. “Because we have remnants that exist today,” she said.

“I don’t want them to be blind and I want them to know what systems are working so they’re ready to navigate them, take them down, disrupt them, I want my kids to have that,” Williams said. . “So I’m not going to rely on the school system to do it, I believe the school system has a role to play, but I just don’t rely on them to do it. It’s something that as a that mother, a black mom, I just try to do naturally.”

She believes understanding why inequalities still exist is worth learning about.

There are reasons why there are tensions in certain communities, reasons why there is a lack of advancement in certain communities, Williams said.

“For example, the black community has not generated the wealth and generational wealth that some white families may have been able to generate.”

“It’s not pointing fingers”

Williams and the Millard-Chacons know there can be reluctance to discuss some of these issues and stories to avoid blaming white students and families about the past.

“The point of talking about it is not to make people feel guilty about the family they were born into,” Williams said. “The goal is to be able to get people to recognize how he still lives today, if he lives today, it’s too far away”

Millard-Chacon, for example, taught his children about the Sand Creek Massacre despite some arguments that the details of the event are too gruesome for children to comprehend.

RELATED: When They Didn’t See an In-Depth History Lesson on the Sand Creek Massacre, These Colorado Teachers Created One

“Yes it is incredibly depressing to know that two thirds of the women and children were killed at Sand Creek and yet it should be known and it has to be weighed for the context in which it was and how the foundation of this state has really been made,” Millard said. -Chacon said.

She and her husband believe there are ways to teach children about the history of communities of color in the United States in ways that are appropriate for different age groups.

Foster cultural pride in the classroom

Beyond the story, Williams wants her kids to learn the whole story when it comes to Black American history.

“I don’t want them to know this story from a white man’s perspective,” Williams said. “I want them to know that black history is American history and that we have been contributors that I believe this country was built on our backs, for free, for nothing and that we have a stake in it and that we are not strangers and that we all have a right to be here, okay, and that differences and diversity matter and that’s a strength. It’s not a deficit, it’s something that makes us stronger together.

Williams said she doesn’t recall having conversations about black history in her elementary schooling. She attended a historically black college and it was there that she remembers learning more about black history in the United States.

“I remember hearing about the Pilgrims and Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America, all those things that you grew up believing to be true until you later found out they were painted in a way that glorified what had happened and disregarded how others might have experienced things differently,” Williams said.

Williams wants her children to not only embrace their heritage and background, but also the heritage of others around them. This is something she teaches at home, but she thinks classrooms have room for this type of lesson too.

For the Millard-Chacons, they intend to foster cultural pride in their children.

“I guess I’m tired of my kids learning from a mainstream narrative that doesn’t celebrate their cultures,” Renee said. “I hope children now have the ability to refine their own cultural identity and that is how their ancestors even created it for them.”

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James C. Tibbs