AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
Students line a busy intersection and overpass protesting a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado, Thursday, September 25, 2014.

Why Teaching History Matters: 4 More Professors Weigh In

Tanya H. Lee
11/5/14

ICTMN asked American Indian college professors for their thoughts on the controversy over the revision of the AP U.S. History exam and accompanying curriculum. The rapid responses to our interview requests and educators’ eagerness to talk about this issue indicate that the teaching of U.S. history as it relates to Native Americans is something they believe is of supreme importance not only to the past, but to the future of this country. Here are excerpts from four professors’ comments.

Bryan Brayboy

Brayboy, Lumbee, director of the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University, also says his students are stunned to find out that the history they were taught in high school was not accurate. “It doesn’t matter what my students look like, where they come from, almost universally what they say to me is, ‘How come we didn’t learn this earlier? Why wasn’t I taught this in high school? This would have been good for me to know.’ For them it’s about information and part of what I would say is the generation of young people who are coming out of high school now and going into college, people who are often called millennials, what they care a lot about is someone telling them the truth.”

The current controversy has some frightening implications: “What’s interesting for me in this controversy, particularly what’s happening in Texas and frankly what’s happened in Arizona in some ways about not talking about the bad side, is that we seem as a country to have lost our ability to disagree, to look at multiple sides of the same topic. Our republic is rooted in disagreements and the governmental structure is set up for people to be able to disagree. There are mechanisms in place for that.”

RELATED: ‘My Ancestors Died for a Reason’: Students Protest Censored U.S. History

Philip Deloria

Deloria is a professor of history and American studies at the University of Michigan. He says he was “shocked, horrified and astonished when his daughter took AP history. The class, he says, was about memorizing names, terms and events, with little instruction that would lead to a conceptual framework for understanding American history. The new AP exam, he says, is “geared toward providing a conceptual apparatus for understanding a wide sweep of American history.”

He would like to see AP history taught the way it is taught at the college level. “At the college level, we would say manifest destiny is what we call an ideological construction. So what does that mean? Ideology is a falsehood that has partial truth embedded in it. Those truths are not coming from God. They’re coming from the way that people actually behave on the ground. So we sit down and look at each other in1846 and say what have we done? Well, we’ve moved from East to West. That’s true. This has happened. We’ve developed certain kinds of institutions. Then to put on top of that the apparent truth of certain [inevitability]. Well, this just had to be. God wanted us to do this. And to project that into behavior.”

Deloria has been very aware of what’s gone on in Jefferson County, Colorado, where students have protested a school board member’s taking exception to the new exam, because he went to school there. “It’s an interesting moment when high school students are saying no we don’t want to be fed this kind of stuff, we want the more complicated kinds of stories. We’re willing to embrace those stories. So they know that they need to understand those other stories, not just a kind of simple, jingoistic, patriotic American history that has been sanitized.”

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