Ron Porter: History, like dirt, does not go away when swept under a rug

 by Ron Porter

There is an ongoing effort, within the United States and elsewhere, to excise the gross humanitarian horrors of the past.  There are examples aplenty. At the turn of the twentieth century over one million Armenians were massacred by the Turkish government. Tribal wars in Africa were conducted with murderous efficiency. Japan, Korea, and China ruthlessly fought and brutalized one another for centuries. However, public-school systems in multiple countries present the past through a myopic, self-serving lens.

In the face of incontrovertible evidence, national leaders remain steadfast in denying a shameful past. History is indeed written by the “winners.” The imprint of past horror is embedded in the DNA of future generations. Current conditions of down-trodden people often have their roots in the savagery of the past.

George Orwell, in a fateful quote from his novel 1984 wrote “Who control the past controls the future.  Who controls the present controls the past.”  Current efforts to ban books and revise public school history curricula brings focus to Orwell’s observation.  With bold and unrelenting consistency, conservative leaders promote an educational philosophy that sanitizes the banality of the past within our country.

Will we ever learn? Less than a century ago, the German public education system began to indoctrinate students with misinformation about the Jewish people. As Germany aggressively militarized, millions were groomed within the public education system.

Respected educators became indoctrinators. German students “learned” World War One was lost because of Jewish complicity. Books that shared the intellectual richness and humanity of diverse authors were burned by the Nazis. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, German students entered classrooms spewing vile, soul killing inhumanity. A murderous cohort of youthful executioners responsible for the “final solution” was unleashed upon the European continent and beyond.

The United States is arching toward a devastating trajectory of misinformation within our public education system.  Like Germany, history revisionists seek to ensure public schools marginalize specific segments of our population.  The gross insanity of educating students that slavery inured to the benefit of the enslaved is becoming more common as a public education touchstone.

It is not only African American history that is the subject of purposeful miseducation. Much of U. S. public education places European voyagers as disseminators of knowledge, culture, and religion to less-worthy peoples. Tales of the discovery of North America ignores the obvious reality the inhabited continent existed before Columbus. “Manifest Destiny” compelled U. S. Commodore Perry’s 1853 travels to Japan and planted seeds of world conflict which sprouted less than a century later. The dictate that “the sun never sets of the British Empire” spoke to the worldwide domination of one people over another. For many people across the planet, the divine right of conquest was never questioned.

Youth in today’s U. S. public education system face the real probability of not being exposed to the horrific misdeeds that are the foundation for today’s social and economic inequities. Our national educational imperative should focus on the clear and unambiguous consequences of systemic, institutionalized mistreatment.

The United States retains the potential to live up to its founding mantra that “all men are created equal.”  As brutal wars decimate the planet, our country can provide unequivocal leadership by rejecting the polarizing descent into a nightmarish future.

I am not suggesting “quick fix” is possible.  However, I am predicting an irreversible slide into a nation-shattering abyss within the lifetime of today’s children. We must do better!  

History, like dirt, does not go away when swept under a rug.  The rug, once lifted, days or centuries later, exposes the dirt which will spread quickly on the ever-present winds of truth and justice.

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