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  • Jahnavi Kirkire

Stripped Down: The History that We Learned


History, at its core, is a chronological timeline of the past. No bias, no interpretation, no opinion. Just fact.


Unfortunately, that ideal version of history can never come to fruition. As it is written by those who have survived - the winners, let’s say - history can never be truly unbiased. When we learn history in school, the singular perspective that we hear is always, always biased. Whether that perspective is of a woman or man, a black individual or brown individual, an individual account is biased purely based on the experiences and opinions of the person writing it. Because of that bias, that impure form of history, our perspectives as students are forever skewed as we know it.


The American education system is not necessarily known for its well-rounded and robust curriculum. Modern times are full of questioning its biases, its equity, or even its ability to evolve into the new age. We all have some suspicions about what we’ve been taught, whether it's true or not, whether or not what we know is real.


That uncertainty stems from the multitude of half-truths we were told as children. Looking back at our education is like seeing the Library of Alexandria go up in flames. It is a staple of our character, but not all of it was true. There are a few key examples of our history curriculum that must be examined more closely.


First, in elementary school, we celebrated Columbus Day and sang a little song, “Oh Columbus sailed the ocean in 1492…” Christopher Columbus did not, contrary to popular belief, discover America. He believed that he had navigated a new route to India - known at the time as Bharat - which would have been extremely lucrative for the Spanish banner he was sailing under. Columbus came to the Americas in 1492, and thus sparked an age of exploration, death, and colonization. We sang a happy song about his discovery of the “New World” and were oblivious to the fact that it is because of Christopher Columbus’ journey that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade ever began. Without his connection to the Americas, thousands of lives would have been spared from bondage.


Second, we were always led to believe that slavery only happened in the Southern United States. As a kid who grew up in Maryland, I was always proud that Maryland fought on the side of the Union and made sure that slavery ended in the United States. Unfortunately, Maryland stayed on the side of the Union only because President Abraham Lincoln used military pressure to keep them in the Union. So no, Maryland as a state was not some sort of savior. Maryland was very much so divided over issues of slavery and secession - but those with the power wanted to leave and were essentially coerced in protecting Washington, D.C. from the South. We have been misled throughout our education - and now is our chance to peel away the layers of misinformation to find the very heart of truth in history.


Third, and my final takeaway, for now, is that it is difficult at best to really codify the truth. The truth can be damning - as it has been with our education - or can be freeing. My last note on what we have been misled to believe is that everyone is equal. In music class, learning the song “Kumbaya” was a staple, alongside screeching on the recorder. Discrimination is real - and we were, to be frank, caught unawares as we grew up. Having held hands and run the pacer test with my fellow students, when someone in middle school came to me and said “Your skin is the wrong color,” I recoiled immediately. We learn that segregation ended in 1954, but I look different, and that made me a target. School tends to idealize history and sugarcoat reality, but now, we can reclaim the truth.


You have the power to look at history. You also have the power to see through the misinformation and half-truths, and now is that time. Progress begins with one step.


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