By Lawrence, Vanessa J.
Black Issues in Higher Education , Vol. 13, No. 21
THE LAST WORD: Truth, Curricula, and the Educational Way.
Are there degrees of truth?
Most curricula tell the truth, but they may not tell the whole truth. The following two examples crystalize the dire need to make curricula more inclusive of the whole truth.
The first is from a book on the current reading list distributed to elementary level children in a New Jersey school system. The second is from a university-level textbook used at a major, urban university in Pennsylvania. Both examples demonstrate that an inclusionary version is the only accurate account. Anything less is misleading.
The elementary book is...If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln (McGovern, A., 1992, Scholastic Inc., New York, N.Y.). Its seventy-nine pages of text describe the housing, food, schooling, working and living conditions during Lincoln's lifetime. It includes a picture of a white man working in a field and a white man riding a plow pulled by a horse. Below that picture it states, "When Lincoln was a boy, men did not have machines to help them farm. By the time Lincoln became president, many farmers were using machines like this."
Other important changes that happened during Lincoln's lifetime, according to the book, include: Lincoln's mother cooked over a fireplace while his wife cooked on a stove; the telegraph was invented which increased the speed for sending messages; and trains came into existence as a means of transportation. The obvious omission from this book -- which is highly recommended and has won a prestigious award -- is any information about African Americans and the effect they had on the United States during Lincoln's lifetime.
There is no recognition that slavery existed. The chapters that discuss the working conditions, the farms, and the farm equipment fail to acknowledge the group that was forced to work on farms in slavery. The chapters that discuss the other living conditions that existed during Lincoln's lifetime fail to mention that the United States Supreme Court -- the highest court in this country -- ruled that African Americans were not citizens of the United States. There is no mention that the Chief Justice, in the same case, ruled that African Americans "...had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." (Dred Scott V. Sandford, 1857). In fact, the book makes no mention nor contains any picture of African Americans.
The omission of African Americans can lead the elementary school student to logically conclude that African Americans were not present in the United States during Lincoln's lifetime or their presence was not important enough to rise to the level of recognition in an historical account. This Eurocentric version serves to denigrate the importance of the contributions and impact that African Americans and others had upon the history of the United States in general, and the life and times of Abe Lincoln in particular. …