Dividing our history, our heritage

December 2, 1998

Original title: “The place of minority history and values in the classroom.”

As tomorrow’s teachers we ask how we can instill in the children an understanding of the value found in diversity. We want to show children that different opinion and views are valuable to society and their own lives.  The difficulty is teaching this without alienating the children from each other.

The United States has been called a “melting pot” of peoples. In teaching our children, I think we should point out that rather than a meshing and melting of individual peoples into a unidentifiable mush, the U.S. is more like a color photograph. Each color is vital to the completion of the whole picture. Just as the photograph needs the variety of colors so society needs different opinions and ways of doing things to make it whole.

In school the subject of American History is taught. This is good. “American” has become a very general term that should be a banner under which people are unified. Yet, do to the insecurity of various ethnic groups a dividing wall has been built. Now we have “Black History,” and other areas that, for the sake of unity, should fall under the “American” title.  Separation of history into specific ethnic groups only causes division in reality.  Think of what problems we would have if schools began separating history into: “White History,” “Italian History,” “Jewish History,” etc.  We would be teaching racial division.  Like the photograph mentioned earlier, “American” is made of many colors, races, opinions, and methods. The categorization and separation of these groups merely causes division.

While in high school I studied about George Washington Carver, the great naturalist and scientist. The teacher did not go out looking for an african american to have us study. We studied Carver because he was a great man. In the process of reporting on Carver, we read of injustices and the inequalities and position in life he overcame.  Because we did not preface the study with a statement like, “Now we are going to study a great black American…,” I did not have the preconceived idea that he was different from me.  I think the study of different people and ideas is important but should not be presented with the preconceived ideas of, “These people are different.  Let’s look how different they are….”

The question for this paper asked, “What is the balance between teaching traditional ‘citizenship’ issues and teaching an appreciation for other viewpoints and ways of doing things?” I am not certain of what ‘citizenship’ issues are being referred, but I would suggest that teaching the cultural and historical traditions of the U.S. should include great acts when performed by anyone.  Inequalities against people should be recognized because of that — they are people — not for the sake of pointing out the differences.  Mention should be made of their ethnic group and the way society looked at them then because these are facts. However, each teacher must be careful not to present these things in a way that may cause the students to continue these divisions in society.

I think teachers would find that if they tell of the differences but emphasize similarities the children would notice the differences but overlook them for the peace of similarity. Emphasis of differences causes divisions.

The above statements apply to issues of ethnic divisions, varying ideas and methods of performing tasks or family activities.  Religious and moral values fall into a more difficult category of knowing how to address them to students.  Teachers must know the difference between condoning a lifestyle and promoting human respect and kindness.

As we, the teachers of tomorrow, address issues of diversity; we should show the children that diversity is not something to cause conflict but to compliment each other in different areas just as the varying talents of a framer compliment the view of a photographer.