Discrimination in our textbooks: The persistence of eurocentric ideologies

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Josie Olderog

Senior Molly Rawat reads her Humanities of the Early World textbook for class to learn about other cultures outside of the US. For US history classes, however, textbooks may not be as reliable on showing a vast number of cultures. In recent years, American textbooks have become disreputable for sugarcoating the historical tragedies experienced by POC in the country, as well as being inaccurate when this information is provided.

Josie Olderog, Feature Editor

As Indigenous People’s Day passes, the conversations over if America has provided proper education in school curricula on the cultures of communities of color have once again arisen. 

Many students have been left in the dark, learning only about the first Thanksgiving or hearing a short lesson on the Trail of Tears in history class. As the country becomes more progressive, it has surfaced that the undermining racist ideologies that remain in our history classes cannot continue to be taught any longer.

Core education on Indigenous people has not only been cut short in comparison to white history, but it has often been inaccurate, incomprehensive and incredibly one-sided. 

Lynne Lundberg, who teaches Humanities of the Early World at PV, had experienced sugar coated curricula when she taught Native American history at a previous school. “In Minnesota we had a required 8th grade class in Minnesota History,” she explained, “but I was never taught that Minnesota was the site of the largest mass execution in US history, [when] 38 Dakota men [were] hanged in Mankato in 1862.” 

Lundberg’s experience is not an isolated incident. A 2015 study revealed that 87 percent of the limited content on Indigenous people of America taught in schools only includes events from before the 1900s and nothing else. 

This lack of representation is a pattern among education regarding POC. American textbooks have also infamously sugarcoated history on slavery. Referring to slaves as “workers” and calling the Atlantic Slave Trade an act of mass immigration are among the many real “errors” that have been caught in textbooks in recent years.

Occurrences like these make it clear that language is a big aspect of teaching the right ideas about the past, as certain language can erase and minimize the painful consequences of America’s racist history.

Additionally, the US education system fails to teach about major Black historical events such as Juneteenth and the Tulsa Race Massacre, as well as many Indigenous historical events. The continuation of this lack of education on people of color’s (POC) cultures, experiences and history is often what causes the denial of systemic racism. 

When people are continually taught the light-hearted version of America’s history, the victims of its oppression will never receive true justice. 

Along with the glorification of POC’s oppression, POC have never received recognition for their achievements due to white supremacist ideologies in textbooks. The achievements of Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian people in America have continually been sidelined by white ones. 

As a passionate educator, Lundberg advocates for the teachings of all cultures equally. “If we fail to teach about cultures that have been omitted from the ‘traditional Western canon,’ we encourage the attitude that the ‘traditional Western canon’ is more valuable than ideas and achievements of any other culture.” she explained.

This erasure of cultures is largely why discrimination and oppression persist in America. LaGarret King, an associate social studies professor at the University of Missouri, stated that erasure often happens in history textbooks to accommodate the most widely followed narrative often seen in education. 

This narrative consistently affirms that America is a progressive country; one that corrects its mistakes and overcomes its racist past. 

But if this holds true, why do we ignore the detrimental effects of ignoring and whitewashing POC’s history? Why would movements like Black Lives Matter be needed if Black lives truly mattered in the classroom and in the country as a whole? 

So while the country makes progress by celebrating Indigenous People’s Day, true progress will only be made by noticing and correcting the racism that is present in the country’s roots and most importantly by changing the way we speak and teach about POC to those who will grow to be the future leaders of America.