A University of California at Berkeley political science/Asian diaspora studies major wants her school to require ethnic studies … because “according to most American history classes, an American is a product of settler colonialism.”
In her Daily Californian op-ed, Jia Wen Wang repeats another claim that has little basis in fact — that contemporary U.S. history courses essentially are little different from those a century ago.
“When we think of U.S. history,” Wang says, “more often than not it brings us to ideas of Christopher Columbus discovering the New World and eating turkey on Thanksgiving.”
Wang makes several other head-scratching claims:
— “The vast majority of American history classes are not culturally inclusive.”
— “We rarely talk about nonwhite immigrants or settlers.”
— “American history classes often fixate on the negative aspects of the already limited ethnic perspective.”
From where do such pronouncements come? When’s the last time Wang, and those who believe as she does, actually delved into a U.S. history text?
As a former educator who taught U.S. history 30 years ago in a federally enforced racially/segregated school district (and used a text from the 1980s), I can confirm such pronouncements are crap. And consider that U.S. history does indeed begin with the foundations of the country which officially came about in the late 18th century … otherwise, you see, it wouldn’t be called “U.S. history.”
Even three decades ago around Thanksgiving time the lesson a fellow teacher and I used centered on dispelling myths about that first now-holiday meal: Things such as eel were a component among the food selections, and black actually wasn’t all that popular a color among the Pilgrims’ clothing (because the dye was expensive), and usually was reserved for special occasions.
Further, we never taught that Columbus “discovered America,” rather that he discovered it for Europe, in a manner of speaking. The horrors of conflicts with Native Americans never were glossed over (although it is important to mention the major role disease played in the nigh-eradication of indigenous peoples), nor were those related to slavery.
The fact is that in modern history classes, both lower and higher ed, there is no shortage of coverage regarding America’s sins and evils, such as they are. There is a paucity of the things that make the United States something to behold, such as (contrary to Wang’s assertions) the notion that “American” has nothing to do with ethnicity or previous nationality, and the greatness of our constitution.
The latter is the real danger. As noted by the Brookings Institution, for example, pathetically low numbers of Americans cannot name the three branches of government. Experts in the field say civics education is now “on the margins of young people’s school experience,” especially given the hyper focus on raising students’ math and reading scores.
“This knowledge and information is essential,” the Brookings report says. “After all how can young people be expected to actively participate in democracy if they are unaware of the basic rules of the game?” Indeed, such likely explains college students’ reactions to the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict and their disdain for the First Amendment, among other things.
Ethnic studies courses actually are those which zero in on the positive and pooh pooh anything negative, essentially acting as a “counter” to Wang’s assertion above regarding U.S. history classes. Consider as examples: this Thanksgiving email from the Washington DC schools chancellor prior to the holiday. Or this “rationale” for Aztec human sacrifices.
Wang concludes by looking to California’s mandate for ethnic studies in public schools as some big step forward; however, be sure to read this and consider what that means.
IMAGE: California Assembly Democrats/YouTube screencap