Do you remember how high school history textbooks taught about World War Two? How do you think that very same content is taught in Russia? Or a question even closer to home for our American readers - how do you think certain extremist groups are taught about in Texas?
Two summers ago, there was a debate in Texas about particular textbooks not talking about the Jim Crow laws or lessening the impact of slavery upon America. The Civil War is a defining point in American history and the differences on how textbooks handle that issue are hugely important. For some textbooks, the cause of the war can be thought of in a purely federal vs. states’ rights context while for others, the main instigator was slavery and the rights of every person who lives in the states, not just white male landowners.
This is not, however, a purely American problem. In Russia, the government put forward a manual titled, “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers.” What was the manual meant to do? Like textbooks in Texas, it is meant to create a different kind of history - one where Stalin’s actions against the Russian people are justified against American aggression. The Soviet Union is not a failure, but rather an example of a fair and equal society.
When we think about historical events, it might not be easy to imagine that in a sense, they are changeable. How we write down our pasts does change them. Consider that if no one had written about the Holocaust, we wouldn’t be mindful of threats to particular ethnic groups today. It may be a cliche, but history is doomed to repeat itself unless we are wary of what has happened before and how it may happen again. Textbooks aren’t the more obvious indicator of where things in the past can shift, but they play a huge role in what is taught and how it is remembered.
Texts that teach
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