Race and the Re-Education of America: Transforming U.S. History Classes (cont.)

How do we teach U.S. History to a nation so divided? The re-education of America is as chaotic as our history. It involves a plethora of resources to ensure that single-perspective narratives are challenged. A uniform, collective story is non-existent.

Magazines, periodicals, and textbooks have chronicled American history for more than two centuries. When National Geographic did some soul searching, the 130-year-old publication often used in classrooms for its science, anthropology, environment, and history coverage recently declared, “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It.” Examples included portraying African-Americans as “savages” and “natives.” Until the 1970s, National Geographic reinforced messages received at the peak of colonialism. Today, the publication is hiring a diverse group of journalists to capture more accurate and inclusive portrayals.

Author and anti-slavery movement expert Donald Yacovone examined how nearly 3,000 textbooks from 1839 - 1980s shaped attitudes on race and reinforced white supremacy. African-Americans appeared mostly as “ignorant,” “slaves,” and anonymous abstractions that posed “problems.” The assumptions of white priority, dominion and importance were in every chapter and theme. “This is the vast tectonic plate that underlies American culture and must be a central concern of every one of us, regardless of age. And while the worst features of our textbook legacy may have ended, the themes, facts, and attitudes of supremacist ideologies are deeply embedded in what we teach and how we teach it. It is a matter made even more challenging, not less, today because of the replacement of paper texts with the Internet,” Yacovone said in a 2017 interview with Huffington Post contributor Robert J. Benz.