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Pet Sins July 1999

An appeal to educators: Can 'we' develop a more accurate junior high school history curriculum?

Dear Educators,

Benjamin Franklin wrote: "[T]he Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth... we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Complexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind." [1751] 1

It seems that Dr. Franklin's partialities continue to defined the information "taught" to the U.S. public, and anyone who receives lessons via U.S.-controlled media. The quilt of ethnicities is often ignored in the U.S. classroom. As an African American pupil, I regularly confronted the process of invisibility in textbooks that purported to teach U.S. history- in spite of the fact that the labor of enslaved Africans and Afro-Indians provided most of the economic wealth of North America before the 20th century. U.S History also ignored the wars fought between Native Americans and the colonial governments, then the United States, the Confederacy, and the Reconstructed United States. European and Western History routinely ignored peoples of Turkic, Slavic, and Semitic backgrounds. In fact, certain Eastern European ethnicities were openly disparaged in our high school textbooks. Not until college did I realize that Slavic peoples constitute the majority of Europe, or were even considered part of the continent. And not until college did it dawn on me that dark-hair was "normal" for the Homeric Greeks. Needless to say, east Asian science was ignored.

Perhaps the unfortunate wars between U.S. policymakers and "Middle East" policy makers need not spread to the Korean peninsula, China, Iran, or Venezuela. I firmly believe that U.S citizens will be better informed about the world, less inclined to latch onto "conspiracies," and have more respect for each other (and that female students will have higher self-image) when:

  • The lessons taught in U.S. classrooms fully include all of the European ethnicities and the contributions which led to Western [or Germanic] Europe's rise
  • The Indigenous Nations which brokered treaties with European colonial powers are discussed as competing Confederations and Nations
  • The African, Arab and "East Asian" contribution to Western economic might and science is taught
  • The contribution of the "Eastern Church" scholars to Asia-Afro-Europe dialogue is taught
  • The Muslim interrelations between Arabs, Turks, Persians, Berbers and Europeans is discussed as part of the Columbus narrative
  • The contributions of soldiers, strategists, and scientists from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Eastern Europe is brought into lectures on the first and second "World Wars"

Are you currently working with any groups of educators to bring an expanded historical perspective to the U.S. classroom? If so, have you had success with a particular lesson plan or textbook? For example, I regularly include Algonquin, Georgian (the country), Central Asian, Madhab (school), and African-American issues in my reading comprehension lessons.

In Peace,

Doctoral Student
Department of History
[historically black university name removed for privacy]

The words of "ethnic" educators and students about the U.S. classroom

"Arab Americans constitute an ethnicity made up of several waves of immigrants from the Arabic-speaking countries of southwestern Asia and North Africa that have been settling in the United States since the 1880s. More than 80 percent are U.S. citizens. Descendants of earlier immigrants and more recent immigrants work in all sectors of society and are leaders in many professions and organizations. As a community, Arab Americans have a strong commitment to family, economic and educational achievements, and making contributions to all aspects of American life. Their Arab heritage reflects a culture that is thousands of years old and includes 22 Arab countries as diverse as Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Palestine."2

The Association of Italian American Educators ("AIAE") was created by educators with the objective of enhancing the Italian American image and presence in education. It supports formal and pertinent education, recognizes distinguished and meritorious educators, provides scholarships and stimulates cultural dialogue in the community.3

Of the 14,367,520 students enrolled in 1998-99, more than 99 percent did not take a course dealing with Poland. In 1998-99, of the 4,096 colleges and universities in the United States, more than 99 percent did not offer a single course dealing with Poland. In view of the above, one can assume that no American university president goes to bed worrying about the state of Polish studies at his or her university. Likewise, no American college or university president wakes up in the morning thinking, "What can we do for Polish studies today?" American higher education is a phenomenal success story in which Polish studies have no part.4

The American Hungarian Educators' Association (AHEA) is a professional and scholarly organization devoted to the teaching and dissemination of Hungarian culture--history, folklore, literature, language, fine arts, music and scientific achievements,5

Greek Americans are a relatively a historical group. At first, this may seem like an absurd statement given the unmistakably high number of reference to ancient and modern Greece one is likely to encounter when talking to or listening to a first, second, or third generation Greek in the United States. But, if one listens carefully and over a period of time, it will become apparent that references to the Greek immigrant experience in the United States are astonishingly few.6

For the typical Bulgarian immigrant of the early twentieth century, passage to the United States was not obstacle-free. With little of value to his name, a peasant would sell his land and livestock, mortgage his farm, or take a high-interest loan from a steamship agent in order to fund his transatlantic trip. Such a costly outlay meant there was no turning back. Some immigrants began their journeys at Danube River ports, traveling to Vienna and continuing overland by train to any number of European port cities (Hamburg, Le Havre, Trieste), where they spent up to a week or more in detention camps before boarding a ship to New York. Others embarked from the Greek ports of Piraeus or Salonika. Although their points of departure varied, most immigrants spent the month-long ocean voyage in steerage, in the hold of the ship, where crowded, unsanitary conditions and poor food encouraged the spread of disease. Many Bulgarians sought to avoid stringent entrance exams at Ellis Island, the immigration station in New York City, by entering the country illegally, through Canada or Mexico.7

"In this new world, a lot of people get their education from movies, and only a tiny fraction of Americans read about such history in serious ways," said Trita Parsi, president of the Washington-based National Iranian American Council. "One can say this is just a cartoon, but it would be wrong not to take it seriously, and it is extremely unfortunate for the Iranian American community."8

Kevin Chu, a Chinese-American first-year student at New York State University, says he has seen the self-segregation of Asian students since high school. He recalls that before high school, students did not segregate themselves, but once he started high school, things began to change. White, Indian, and Asian students segregated into different tables in the cafeteria. Sometimes they even used colors to distinguish themselves - white or brown.9

  1. Anatomy of the English Only Movement, by James Crawford; The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II (Philadelphia, 1726-1757) on www.historycarper.com; Intellectual Warfare, Jedi Shemsu Jehewty (Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers)
  2. from the Arab American Institute

  3. from the Association of Italian American Educators

  4. from Polish Studies in Higher American Education

  5. American Hungarian Educators Association

  6. from On Teaching About the Greek American Experience, Hellenic Communication Service, LLC

  7. from Bulgarian Americans by Eleanor Yu

  8. by Iranian Community Offended by Film's Take On Ancient Battle by Pamela Constable

  9. from After Desegregation, Chinese American Students Still Face Uphill Battle, Douwie Times, News Report, Hubert Lu, Translated by Eugenia Chien