Textbooks about American history are usually white washed, predominately male orientated, and down plays or omit parts of history. The most common narrative that seems to do this is the chapters about secession and the civil war. The big debate seems to be, “was slavery a major factor in why the South seceded from the North?” As historians and even college students a majority of us agree that slavery was a major and core reason why the South secede, but in some textbooks in Texas they seem to disagree. In some textbooks that students are using in there classrooms in Texas, it states that slavery was not the reason at all it was economic reasons. Why do textbooks teach students this? Is this issue a regional issue? Or is it that we ignore the topic of slavery then we don’t make our students feel bad? History is a subject in my opinion that allows people to learn from the mistakes of the past and to make change, but by omitting and changing history how then can students learn?
In Loewon’s articles “Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong” and “Time to De-Confederatize the Textbook, “The American Journey”: An Open Letter to James McPherson.” He asks the same questions. He begins his argument at looking at what other people that opposes the slavery argument, like Michele Bachmann (Republican) who states, that slavery was pro-family (HAHAHA) and the Civil War was fought over state rights. Loewon, begins his research on why people look at the Civil War this way, Loewon believes that Southern though lost on the battlefield picked up their pen and wrote their version of history and altering events in away that slavery was not a problem or a issue. Many people and even historians, like James McPherson, began to accept this narrative and started to building monuments in honor of the confederate soldiers and altering the words on them that would show the idea that the civil war was fought over state rights. “With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what the Confederacy was about and our Army honoring Southern generals, no wonder so many Americans supported the Confederacy until recently.” Loewen makes a modern day connection this issue and ideal with the argument about the confederate flag that was flown over South Carolina, government building if it should be taken down or kept up. The phrase that many us saw on our social media cites was, “The Confederate flag stands for heritage not pro-slavery!” As teachers we know and can see the harmful effects that this narrative can have on our students, though it may not go as far as Dylann Roof situation, it can be just as simple as the students more than willing to wave the confederate flag believing that it is heritage not pro-slavery.
As teachers how are we suppose to do to with the confederacy history/narratives that Loewon mentions that are found in textbooks? In the NPR radio segment, “How Textbooks Can Teach Different Versions Of History,” a teacher from Texas who does not approve of the textbooks in her classroom mentions that textbooks are not the final be all say all of history, just like last week that Hollywood should not have the last say about history. She states, that textbooks can be used as a reference and explicitly states that the textbooks is not always right. She provides primary resources and secondary resources for her students to use in the classroom. The article “Learning from History and Social Studies Textbooks,” would agree with this teacher from Texas, but they also saw some other issues about textbooks. The author states that textbooks are vague about information/titles of chapters and background information. When textbooks do this they confuse the students more then what they may already be. In the new American history textbook Yawp by Joseph Locke and Ben Wright, they wanted to ignore this issue and create a textbook that doesn’t omit parts of history or even white wash it. As authors they are realizing how hard it is to create a textbook like that, but strives through it.
As teacher we really need to engage with the textbooks and sources that we are giving our students to understand what they are learning. We need to express that textbooks are not always historically accurate and provide them with other narratives. When talking about the Civil War, it will be hard but not establishing with your student that the south seceded from the North because of slavery will only minimize the human experiences of slavery and African American during that time. Have students understand that history is ever changing and challenge them to think critically about history.