Saturday, June 03, 2006

Knowing our Past, Changing our Future

I came across some information several years ago that really stunned me. Allow me to quote:

"In Oregon, in 1922, the Ku Klux Klan, which had made the little red schoolhouse
a symbol of Americanism, lobbied successfully for a law mandating that all
children attend public schools"
(p. 14). (Tyack, D. B. (1993). Constructing difference: Historical reflections on schooling and social diversity. Teachers College Record, 95(1), 8-34.)
In the article it explains how immigrants who came to this country were forced (against their will) into public schools. A series of Americanization laws (the Bennett Law in Wisconsin was one) were created so that all children would attend public schools, despite the fact that many immigrant groups simply wanted to continue educating their own children and retaining their own culture. The goal of the public schools was to "Americanize" and assimilate immigrants. As a part of that, in the 1890's the Pledge of Allegiance was instituted in the schools in order to "inculcate a common loyalty" (p. 13).

As I read about the origins of our current education system, I began to have a much different outlook on our current practices. The Little Red Schoolhouse icon was a symbol of patriotism that the Klan supported??? The Pledge of Allegiance was a way to force people into allegiance??? There were actually laws that demanded patriotism??? (that actually sounds eerily like today's laws!)

I'm afraid most of us are ignorant to the past. Information like this is not presented in history textbooks. We have to search for it. But I would like to believe if we knew more about our past and knew what we were actually founded on, we might begin to understand our current system and we might begin to recognize how the system has always set certain groups of people at a disadvantage. I would like to think our awareness and knowledge would lead us to change the way we individually and collectively approach our present and future.

As I look into our history from a multicultural perspective, I have found numerous events and happenings that disturb me. I think it is important for all of us to be aware of our past--even the parts of our past that make us uncomfortable. There are truths that have conveniently been left out of our education. If they are not presented to us, we need to seek them out.

I have heard the quote: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." ~George Santayana. I am afraid we are already going down that path. However, by educating ourselves and passing along our new information, I believe we can begin to turn the tide.
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