Most of our schools are using one textbook, with one perspective of history, when we have seen there are multiple views that change over time.
According to the National Social Science Association, “teachers rarely recognize that the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions depends on examining multiple perspectives of historical events.” Unfortunately, “however, the teachers’ ethnocentric viewpoint can cause them to unconsciously teach from the perspective: “My own group is superior.”(www.nssa.us)
Enough from the experts; we know from personal experience, history has changed or the interpretation of history has changed. Wasn’t Christopher Columbus once seen as a hero? Most current textbooks clearly portray him as more of a villain, but we continue to celebrate Columbus Day. Separate but equal laws seemed fair, to some, at one time, and now are seen as universally ignorant.
For my children, and students, it’s been interesting to show them a variety of versions of the same historical event, interpreted and reinterpreted over the years.
For the 6-10 year old reader they can check out, Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco.
This book follows two characters during the Civil War, one black and one white, and it’s great at showing the life of two boys during that time period, while breaking stereotypes.
Appropriate for the 10-14 crowds are the “split books”, by Michael Burgan.
The Split History of the American Revolution shows both sides of the war in the same book. The reader actually has to flip the book to read the opposite perspective.
I would look at specific words used in these texts. How is using a different word change how you feel about it? For example, was the Boston Tea Party a protest or a riot? Depending on the word that’s used, the reader might feel differently about what happened.
Below are text excerpts for the advanced, gifted or high school reader to examine. I chose from three different sources, with subtle distinctions on viewpoint, on the American Revolution and the causes of it.
By Howard Zinn, A Young People’s History of the United States
Around 1776, certain important people in the English colonies made a discovery that would prove enormously useful for the next two hundred years. They found that by creating a nation, a symbol, a legal unity called the United States; they could take over land, profits, and political power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process, they could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged leadership.
By Social Studies for Kids website
The securing of independence from Great Britain by the people of the 13 Colonies. Calling themselves the United States of America, these people wrote a Declaration of Independence, defied the authority of their mother country, and ended up winning a war to protect that independence. The Revolution certainly ended with the victory in the Revolutionary War; however, the Revolution began long before that, maybe even with the settlement in America (far away from England) of people who wanted to govern themselves and who wanted to have a direct say in the way they were governed.
Republicanism as the cause of the Revolution
In a larger sense the tax issue was part of the representation question, which was increasingly defined by Americans as an issue of republicanism. The commitment of most Americans to republican values caused the Revolution, for Britain was increasingly seen as corrupt and hostile to republicanism, and a threat to the established liberties that Americans enjoyed. The greatest threat to liberty was increasingly seen as “corruption”–not just in London but at home as well. The colonists associated it with luxury, Royal appointees not answerable to the people, a standing army, unnecessary taxes, and, ultimately, an system of rule by an inherited aristocracy.
The revolution occurred in the hearts and minds of Americans in 1774-1776 as they realized that continued subservience to the British Empire was incompatible with republicanism. The Loyalists were willing to be ruled by a distant aristocracy, the patriots were not.
The Seven Years War ended in British victory in 1763, and there were no foreign threats to the American colonies, nor any serious Indian threats. London wanted stifling controls on the colonial economy and on westward expansion. They insisted that the colonists new taxes, but refused to allow representation in Parliament. Britain was not asking the Americans to share the burden of warfare–they never asked the colonial legislatures for that. Instead they insisted that Parliament had every right to tax the colonists whether they liked it or not. Power was the issue. Ominously London sent thousands of regular army troops–was this to protect the colonists from nonexistent threats, or to protect the Royal officials from the anger of the people?
Nothing seemed more dangerous to the precious political liberties of the Americans than the sort of standing army Britain was forcing upon them. The colonists responded by setting up their own shadow government, including local committees and (beginning in 1774) a Continental Congress.
Above are some examples of how history can be reinterpreted, with very slight differences and implications. Howard Zinn, author of A Young People’s History of the United States, has been known has having a liberal and very different point of view of history. You may want to purchase the books, or use the link above for information and compare his interpretation of history to others.
Conservapedia is conservative version of Wikipedia, which also has his own interpretation of history. I don’t tell my kids which interpretation resonates with me; I just present the different versions and see what they think. They may be confused and feel they need more research. It’s okay to not have an opinion at times. To simply present different interpretations of the same event and present the idea that 2 people can look at the same thing and have different conclusions, I always thought was important. I always reiterated their opinions were important and valid whether I agreed with them or not. Your child may ask what you think. I try to withhold my opinion, because it is important they form their own opinion and thoughts.
Another alternative history book, for the high school reader is:
Let me know if you have tried to teach your children about bias and perceptions in media or history. I would love to hear if you have tackled this subject in any way.