Like many others, I grew up marking today as a holiday celebrating the arrival of a particular person to the shores of a Caribbean island in 1492, labeling it the “discovery of the Americas.” As was the case for many–and still is, given what I see going on in my daughter’s own schooling–I was given no cause to question the assertion, and I do not think that any such questions would have been welcome. (My questions to teachers during my elementary school years generally weren’t. Admittedly, I was a little shit. Still…) I never really thought about it, except to enjoy the day off from school I got.
It was only later that I began to realize the error in the assertion–even within the school’s materials. For they had all noted that the jackass in question had encountered people upon landing, and it occurred to me that you can’t discover a damned thing when there’re already people there. I learned about Leifr Eiriksson, too, and in class, giving the lie to the earlier-learned narratives. And, as I continued in school through into college and graduate school, I learned yet more, enough to know I do not and cannot know the whole truth of things–and had damned well not been taught it early on.
Now, I know that kids in elementary school are not equipped to handle as much as grown adults. I know that individual teachers are constrained by curricular demands that are written in statehouses by legislators with vested interests in particular positions (you know, politics) and who do not seldom benefit from speaking with testing and publishing companies that like to have control over materials so they can make more money from them. I know that no report of atrocity can adequately convey the horror of it, even as too many students experience too much atrocity in their own lives.
But I also know that, yes, the decision to teach particular views of history that aggrandize people who record in their own journals that they are doing things not excused even by the mores of the time, let alone more modern sensibilities, is a choice, and it is one that serves to glorify some unduly, as well as to set aside others without cause or justification. And I am not calling for the events in 1492 not to be taught. No, I would hope that they would be taught in greater detail, not eliding the evil that was done–and done knowingly. I know they will not be, of course, as making such changes–even though they are more in line with contemporary attestations and physical evidence that remains even now (you know, the facts that are purportedly so highly prized)–would cause questions to be asked such as I might have asked and which are therefore unwelcome.
We can’t have people questioning the chain of greatness, after all, especially at times when it has to be insisted upon if it’s going to work.