Teaching biased history does students a disservice

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Photo Credit: Liza Anderson | Daily Texan Staff

When we teach things to children, we like to simplify things. We like to make the story clean and easy to tell. We say that these people were the “good guys” and those people were the “bad guys.” Not only does it make for a nice and concise story, but it keeps children from having to think too hard about the complexities of themselves and those around them.

Unfortunately, this type of learning is not best when it comes to “real world application” (which is what they’re always trying to get us to focus on, am I right teachers?). As adults, we realize everyday how many different reasons and impulses lead us to perform certain types of behavior. Rarely is anyone good or bad, right or wrong — yet these are the kinds of narratives we teach our children in the classroom. We simplify things for them in an environment where stories ought to be at their most complex.

As a result of all this, students are presented with one-dimensional histories of the “evil Mexican” and the “heroic Texan.” Is this an accurate telling of history? No, it is not. The reality is that Mexico wanted to preserve its land and people in the same way any country would desire, and the Texans (Anglo-Americans who had chosen to move to Texas or Mexico for the dirt cheap pastures) didn’t want to be Mexicans anymore. Is this a story of good and evil? No, it’s a story of government, politics, and arable land, and it’s a much more interesting, complex, and (most importantly) accurate way to depict historical events.

This type of biased history is not uncommon in Texas, or even the United States for that matter. For example, UT professor John Moran Gonzalez’s recent exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum taught locals how Texas Rangers in the early 1900s unjustly arrested and killed Mexican-American people as part of their everyday work. Here in Texas, we glamorize Texas Rangers as heroic defenders of justice, but in reality their work and their identities were much more complicated. While this might not be an easy story to tell children — of public servants abusing their power — it’s the accurate one, and it’s the one they deserve to know, lest we patronize them.

Right now, it is quite common for older generations to talk about how we “baby” millennials and the youngest of our society. Everyone gets a participation trophy at the end of the game. Everyone thinks they’re a unique “snowflake.” Everyone gets to be told they’re special, and no one can take any criticism. Regardless of whether or not you believe these ideas to be true, isn’t that what our state is asking us to do by leaving out the more complicated sides of Texan and American history? Instead of telling how unique and special and heroic the Texans were that day, why don’t treat them as the adult men they were, with their own faults and humanity.

As an elementary school kid, I had to sing a song at the National Parent Teacher Association performance about the Battle of the Alamo. I can remember the verses: “Crockett, Bowie, Travis and the rest. They fought real hard and they did their best. But over the wall came the Mexicans. There were just too many of Santa Ana’s men.” Mexican-American children make up a large — I mean large — percentage of our students in public schools. We have to wrestle with our complicated history on a regular basis. We have to sing songs about our evil ancestors climbing over the wall to kill the Crocket, Bowie, and Travis who “did their best.” We think critically upon history all the time; we have to. And you know what? I don’t think we’re any worse for it. It’s about stories of good and evil. It’s about taking our kids and their futures seriously enough to teach them the hard facts.

Perez is an english graduate student and assistant instructor.