Dark history of U.S. should be taught
Written by Jacob Thebault-Spieker
Monday, 08 December 2008
The Tuesday before thanksgiving, my parents came to pick me up from school, which was awesome because I hadn’t seen them since the beginning of the school year. Needless to say we got talking pretty much right away, and discussed a large array of topics, including what the public school system teaches. This topic led to my mom talking about Leonard Peltier, a Native American who was convicted of the murder of two FBI agents, during a gunfight on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
According to my what my mom has said, Peltier is not an entirely innocent person, but if you look at the evidence, there is not really any reason to reach the conclusion that Peltier was the person who killed the two FBI agents. He was on the reservation as part of a protest in 1975 at Wounded Knee, and was invited there by the tribe who owned the reservation. The FBI was on the reservation because they were worried about a violent dispute breaking out. Amnesty International considers Leonard Peltier to be a political prisoner of the United States, because there seems to be some dirty legal stuff going on. For instance, the FBI used perjured testimony in their case to get Mr. Peltier extradited from Canada to the United States (that is, the people testifying were known to have lied), and Peltier’s defense was barred from calling relevant witnesses in their case.
After hearing this, I did what every college student does when they’re looking for more information: I checked WIkipedia. The Wikipedia article on political prisoners lists two other political prisoners of the United States, Oscar López Rivera and Marie Haydée Beltrán Torres. Both of these people are Puerto Rican nationalists, and are thought to have ties to Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), an organization linked to a large number of bombings, and some killings during the 1970s (presumably, therefore considered a terrorist organization by the US government). Both Rivera and Torres were convicted of seditious conspiracy (conspiracy to overthrow the United States government), with Torres being sentenced to life in prison.
Both Rivera and Torres refused to participate in the court proceedings, declaring themselves prisoners of war. Torres was sentenced without a lawyer representing her, and both Torres and Rivera are considered to be political prisoners by their supporters. Rivera is being kept in solitary confinement, and it is argued that this is because of his political beliefs and affiliations.
American Gulag has a list of people they consider to be political prisoners of the United States if you’re interested.
Raise your hand if you were taught about any of these three people in a history class up to this point. Anyone? No? That’s what I thought. Why don’t we teach these darker sections of United States history? How many of you knew that Abraham Lincoln (yes, the same one who is on Mt. Rushmore) sent Native American tribes blankets full of smallpox? This is a more well-known fact, but still not one that is widely taught in school systems.
One argument as to why things aren’t taught in public schools is the idea of textbook editorial boards, and the business of selling textbooks. Many editorial boards feel that their books won’t sell if the content is controversial (says something bad about certain areas of the country, condemning slavery, for instance). However, I worry that this type of editorializing of textbooks leads to complacency and apathy in the students. We’re all taught the same thing, and it’s the least controversial, most boilerplate version of history possible, all so we don’t offend people who, historically, have done some pretty horrendous things.
If students aren’t learning about the unsavory bits of United States history, how will they be able to make informed choices on public policy? I’ve always kind of ignored the adage “Those who don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it” because I assumed I was being taught history relatively well.
Source URL: http://www.universityregister.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=895&Itemid=1