Eri came to live in the U.S. when she was in fourth grade. She learned English quickly, made friends, and succeeded academically. One day, she came to my classroom sobbing. She had just learned that her birth country, Japan, had bombed her new country, the U.S.A., at Pearl Harbor. This was not a version of her country’s history she had been taught when she was a student in Japan. She did not understand why her Japanese teachers had withheld this important, but ugly, piece of her country’s history from her.
Why was she educated in depth about Hiroshima and Nagsaki, but not Pearl Harbor? I don’t know but I can guess. Decades after the bombing, the story of Pearl Harbor paints Japan as the cruel empire that it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s, not the gentle hard-working culture it strives to portray today. So, were Eri’s Japanese teachers correct in eliminating from the curriculum the part of Japanese history that no longer fits with a modern image?
We may find it shocking that such an important event could be ignored by some Japanese teachers. But do we find it equally shocking that ugly events are not taught in American schools? Why do we skim over the fact that much of our economy was built on the backs of enslaved humans? Why do public school history books ignore our country’s support of authoritarian regimes throughout the world? Why do we favor of a version of our history that portrays our country as always being on the moral and brave side of the story? Because we see that as patriotic.
But is it patriotic for our children to be shielded from the mistakes of our past as they also learn of the glories of our history? Isn’t our goal to raise well-educated students? How can they be considered well-educated when they only know half of the story? How can they be expected to make reasoned decisions about the direction of our country if they have been blocked from knowing the truth, the whole truth, of our triumphs and mistakes?
Efforts are cropping up in many states to limit the version of American history students are allowed to learn. This initiative is misguided. We have a well-educated teaching force who understand how to present age-appropriate material in a well-constructed format. Restricting the version of history that educators are allowed to present is simply not the way we should do things in this country.
Retired public school teacher