Monday, December 16, 2013


In eighth grade, I took U.S. History for the first time. Our textbook had around 900 pages counting the index.
One of those pages had a mini-bio on Sacagawea.
One of those pages mentioned Pocahontas.
One of those pages had a mini-bio on Joseph Plumb Martin, a 15 year old Revolutionary War soldier.
One of those pages talked about student protests during the Vietnam War.
One of those pages talked about education in the early colonial era.
One of those pages talked about the girls involved in the Salem Witch Trials.
Two of those pages talked about child labor in the Industrial Revolution. There would've been one, but the paragraph started at the bottom of the page.
Using the index, I looked up 'kids', 'children', 'child labor', 'teenagers', 'girls', 'boys', and 'youth' several times. I can say with absolute certainty that these are the only eight pages in the book that talked about young people. That's less than 1% of the book.
Nearly all of the book was devoted to what my sophomore history teacher would later call 'dead white males'. Oh, there were exceptions. The Civil War chapter. The women's suffrage chapter. And at the end of every normal chapter, they'd have this half-page to talk about black cowboys or Chinese gold miners. I called it the diversity page.
Granted, it's the adult white males who were presidents and generals. We only have so much class time. We can't focus on anyone who's less than monumental. But teenagers were there and we matter as much as any minority.
Southern schools put emphasis on the Civil War. On Indian reservations you'll learn tribal history. All-girls schools will find the women who influenced an era, the women who married those presidents and generals, and the women who were just there for it all. Why shouldn't an all-children school do the same?
Because women and blacks and Native Americans can be adults. They can complain and have their voices heard. We can't. And if we could, would we? We care more about passing the tests than the actual history. And that's a problem. History doesn't come to life for us. It's "them", not "us", it's stories, not lives. Why should we care if we're "the nation's future" when we can't find ourselves in the past?
We trekked along the Oregon Trail and labored in factories during the industrial revolution. We fought in World War II and Vietnam. We were there for the women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement and everything else. Sometimes we shaped history and sometimes we just watched. But we were there.
And we have the right to know.

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