Please do not rewrite history – there is too much to learn (a still needed reprise)

Our friend Keith has reprised one of his older posts about the whitewashing of history, the attempts to erase the mistakes we’ve made (and there have been many!) throughout the years. But, if we don’t remember our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. Thanks, Keith, for an excellent post, a timely reminder.


The following post was written about six years ago. Unfortunately, the white washing of US history continues as would typically be done in more autocratic regimes. If we do not bother to know history, we are destined to repeat it, especially by some who do not want us to know.

In the US, a few states have acquiesced to the push by some conservative funding groups to whitewash history. The target is the Advanced Placement US History curriculum. The problem the group is solving in their minds is we do not pat ourselves on the back enough and discuss American exceptionalism. I will forego the word exceptionalism as I can devote a whole post to this, but when we try to hide our warts and how we have protested or overcome those warts, we are missinga key part of our greatness – our ability as citizens to protest and…

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17 thoughts on “Please do not rewrite history – there is too much to learn (a still needed reprise)

  1. Sometimes it’s necessary to rewrite history. The history of my own country was largely written from the perspective of Pākehā (those of European decent). I was fortunate to have grown up in a locality where there was a significant indigenous Māori population and had teachers who were sensitive to their version of history.

    It’s only in the last 50 years that the Māori perspective has become more universally acceptable as being a valid part of our history. Of course there’s a small reactionary Pākehā element who consider any viewpoint other than their own is a case of “political correctness gone mad”. On the other hand, I believe we need to understand both perspectives, and if we don’t we will continue to create injustices.

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    • If by rewriting history you mean to clarify or present actual facts, then I can agree with that. But in order to obliterate or whitewash facts, it is unacceptable. I certainly agree that the facts must be viewed from a variety of perspectives, and no doubt the Maori will view incidents in a different light than others, but at the end of the day, you cannot hide what happened, nor should we. I am guessing, then, that you are in New Zealand?

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      • Your guess is correct.
        Colonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand was somewhat more “enlightened” than in many other places as it occurred mostly from the middle of the nineteenth century, but there was a tendency to believe that European “civilisation” was superior, and every action by settlers was noble and honourable. It wasn’t, even by standards of the day, but it’s a myth that’s been promoted by Pākehā and some Māori. Since the 1970s there has been a move to redress historical and current grievances of Māori and of course some Pākehā are fighting a rearguard action to keep the status quo.

        So while history about past events doesn’t need to be rewritten, the how and why they occurred most certainly do.

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        • Yes, that is the same here … history WAS re-written, or falsified, when they wrote the history books that have long been used in the schools, teaching about how great the “white man” was when they came to the continent, how wonderfully we treated the natives … none of which is true! Re-writing history in order to tell the truth I definitely agree with. We have more than our share of dark periods in this country, but most people simply overlook those or in many cases aren’t even aware of them!

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          • Perhaps myths are less entrenched here due to our colonial past being more recent (the mid 1800s). When I was a child, one of our neighbours was an elderly Māori woman died at the age of 103 in 1959 (if my memory serves me well). She told me stories about the local incidents that eventually lead to the NZ land wars and the horrors that she and her family endured both before and during the war, and after hostilities ended. For a so called “civilised” culture, the actions of many of the colonialists can only be described as “barbaric”.

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            • You have hit the nail on the head! I’ve long said that the further away we move in time from something, the more it turns from reality to myth. Take, for example, the Holocaust. I had an aunt and uncle who were consigned to concentration camps, and my grandparents escaped to the U.S. My dad fought in WWII in the U.S. army. I well remember growing up hearing the horrific stories of the Nazis and the war, and it felt so very real to me, since I was hearing it from people who were actually there and lived through it. But, as I repeated the stories to my children, I could see they weren’t having the same effect on them that they had on me in my youth. And my granddaughter listens, and is horrified, but I can see that it doesn’t have the same connection for her as it did for me. With each passing generation, I think we lose a bit of that connection, that reality.

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  2. Thank you, Jill, for pointing this out. Not only the material and tone of the educational material, in particular history, matters, but also the methodology of the teaching during courses, especially in class.

    When students are encouraged (or at least permitted) to question, and ask for the sources, and to find some second and even first-hand documents, and to fit that into the overall context, they see how the history passed for themselves, and any amount of self-congratulations will be less important, as those Critical Thinking skills are employed, thus helping to dismantle the attempts at white-washing, via the very targets, the students themselves.

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    • There are those who would like to erase the darker parts of our past, but it is from those very dark parts that we must learn, must find ways to do better, to say “NEVER AGAIN!”. Slavery, white man’s treatment of Native Americans, Japanese Internment, the MS St. Louis, Jim Crow, and so much more. Yes, critical thinking is key, but many of our schools are stifling that, are whitewashing the facts for the “greatness of America” myth.

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        • You are right that schools are only a part of the solution, but they are the universal connection … every child must attend school, so there is our greatest opportunity to educate, to teach them how to think for themselves. Trouble is, we don’t … the schools are held hostage to … well … any number of elements … the tech industry who are craving new minds to take them forward, the religious right who would impose numerous censures on the rest of us, and more.

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          • Actually, not every kid: the rich pull their kids out, remember private schools.
            Now, if we had something akin to a universal Gap Year or like a Civilian Draft, to do civil service for a year for EVERY American kid, to be sent to some part of the country the kid does not know, and to see points of view that the kid didn’t get to meet growing up, kind of like a universal version of the CCC, then maybe we could help grow both empathy and infrastructure at the same time, no?

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              • LOL! I don’t think that would work out so well, but I’d certainly, humbly, love for the president to consider some of my ideas. I’d be delighted to serve in whatever capacity in which I fit best.

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                  • Well, I appreciate your kind words, Jill, I just hope to present something that has not yet been talked about, or so it seems to me, that could be one possibility for an alternative. I’m sure that there are others, too, that deserve consideration. But how do we get all of these ideas out there, and in front of “the right” sets of eyes?

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                    • That, my friend, is the $64 million question and one I’ve been trying to find an answer for the past many years. I think we just keep plugging away, trying to expand the number of people we reach, and hope that someday the right person will read our words, our thoughts, our ideas, and a light bulb will come on.

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