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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Young People's History

by Seattle Jon (bio)

Painting of Howard Zinn by Robert Shetterly

I recently finished Howard Zinn's A Young People's History of the United States, a book my two oldest children are also studying this year. I made the decision to study the book after reading the following passage in the book's introduction, a viewpoint on our nation's history that was remarkably similar to our family's viewpoint on the history of the mormon church.
Over the years, some people have asked me: "Do you think that your history, which is radically different than than the usual histories of the United States, is suitable for young people? Won't it create disillusionment with our country? Is it right to be so critical of the government's policies? Is it right to take down the traditional heroes of the nation, like Christopher Columbus, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt? Isn't it unpatriotic to emphasize slavery and racism, the massacres of Indians, the exploitation of working people, the ruthless expansion of the United States at the expense of the Indians and people in other countries?"

I wonder why some people think it is all right for adults to hear such a radical, critical point of view, but not teenagers or sub-teenagers? Do they think that young people are not able to deal with such matters? It seems to me it is wrong to treat young readers as if they are not mature enough to look at their nations's policies honestly. Yes, it's a matter of being honest. Just as we must, as individuals, be honest about our own failures in order to correct them, it seems to me we must do the same when evaluating our national policies.

Patriotism, in my view, does not mean unquestioning acceptance of whatever the government does. To go along with whatever your government does is not a characteristic of democracy. I remember in my own early education we were taught that it was a sign of a totalitarian state, of a dictatorship, when people did not question what their government did. If you live in a democratic state, it means you have the right to criticize your government's policies.
Perhaps seeing another side of history - both our nation's and the church's - will create disillusionment in our children. Perhaps we have no right to shine light on the shortcomings of our heroes. And perhaps it is unpatriotic and/or unfaithful to point out and explore some of the horrible events in our nation's and church's history. But then again, perhaps the question shouldn't be whether or not to teach these things, but when and how to teach them. What do you think?

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