Monday, July 13, 2020
July 13, 2020

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In Our View: Comprehensive U.S. history curriculum is crucial

The Columbian

Despite what many of us learned in school, the story of the United States is not solely the story of white men. Various cultures have contributed to the development of a nation on land originally inhabited by Native Americans.

As a recent Columbian article detailed, local school districts are increasingly aware of the need to present a comprehensive telling of American history. Those efforts will lead to a student body that is better informed and better equipped to confront this country’s problems.

“The story of America is the story of all of us,” said Wendy Smith, a history teacher in Evergreen Public Schools and president of the board of Vancouver Public Schools. “I’m trying to get them to understand the American story and all the different experiences that create that story.”

An interesting contrast in how that story is told can be found in a New York Times article from January. The Times looked at textbooks commonly used in California and Texas — ostensibly the same textbooks except for changes dictated by local educators.

In one example, the California version notes how bigotry influenced the suburbanization of America during the 1950s: “While suburban living offered a better life for some, African Americans encountered discrimination when they tried to buy houses in the suburbs.” It then explains the systemic racism involved, but the paragraph is omitted from the Texas version of the textbook.

In another example, the California textbook explains that court rulings have allowed for some limits on private gun ownership under the Second Amendment; the Texas book does not mention that fact. Differences also can be found in how the textbooks address civil rights, LGBTQ rights and immigration.

Indeed, teaching materials should reflect the norms of local districts and state governing boards. While politics inherently play a role in those norms, a broad perspective of history and social issues is essential for developing students who are well-informed and able to effectively assess the impact of this country’s past.

For teachers, technology has expanded the availability of instruction materials. The internet provides a trove of historical perspectives from differing viewpoints, and reporter Dana Goldstein of the New York Times told NPR: “The feedback we’re getting … is more and more teachers saying, ‘You know, I’ve been wanting to move away from relying on textbooks. And this reminds me of why that is important, because these textbooks are incomplete.’ ”

Public outrage over police brutality against Blacks has sparked new interest in a complete telling of the American experience. Both the Evergreen and Vancouver districts — the largest in Clark County — have announced new equity initiatives to review policies and practices. Inclusion and equity directors will be responsible for reviewing district curriculum.

Research has found that coursework reflecting a diverse student body can improve outcomes for students of color. It also can increase understanding and empathy between students of different racial groups.

As detailed in The Columbian, sisters Daron Dean and Olivia Trueblood, graduates of Clark County high schools, are helping to lead efforts for more inclusive education in local schools.

Dean said: “People tend to forget that Black history and U.S. history, those things are interwoven throughout our entire history of the United States. It should be taught like that.” Ideally, today’s students will have a more comprehensive view of history than their predecessors.