Truth, curricula, and the educational way – need to include whole truth in school curricula

Are there degrees of truth? Yes. Most curricula tell the truth, but they may not tell the whole truth.

The following two examples crystalize the dire need to make curricula more inclusive of the whole truth. The first is from a book on the current reading list distributed to elementary level children in a New Jersey school system. The second is from a university-level textbook used at a major, urban university in Pennsylvania. Both examples demonstrate that an inclusionary version is the only accurate account. Anything less is misleading.

The elementary book is . . . If You Grew Up With Abraham Lincoln (McGovern, A., 1992, Scholastic Inc., New York, N.Y.). Its seventy-nine pages of text describe the housing, food, schooling, working and living conditions during Lincoln’s lifetime. It includes a picture of a white man working in a field and a white man riding a plow pulled by a horse. Below that picture it states, “When Lincoln was a boy, men did not have machines to help them farm. By the time Lincoln became president, many farmers were using machines like this.”

Other important changes that happened during Lincoln’s lifetime, according to the book, include Lincoln’s mother cooked over a fireplace while his wife cooked on a stove; the telegraph was invented which increased the speed for sending messages; and trains came into existence as a means of transportation.

The obvious omission from this book — which is highly recommended and has won a prestigious award — is any information about African Americans and the effect they had on the United States during Lincoln’s lifetime.

There is no recognition that slavery existed. The chapters that discuss the working conditions, the farms, and the farm equipment fail to acknowledge the group that was forced to work on farms in slavery.

The chapters that discuss the other living conditions that existed during Lincoln’s lifetime fail to mention that the United States Supreme Court — the highest court in this country — ruled that African Americans were not citizens of the United States. There is no mention that the Chief Justice, in the same case, ruled that African Americans “. . . had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” (Dred Scott V. Sandford, 1857). In fact, the book makes no mention nor contains any picture of African Americans.

The omission of African Americans can lead the elementary school student to logically conclude that African Americans were not present in the United States during Lincoln’s lifetime or their presence was not important enough to rise to the Level of recognition in an historical account. This Eurocentric version serves to denigrate the importance of the contributions and impact that African Americans and others had Upon the history of the United States in general, and the life and times of Abe Lincoln in particular.

Truth is told to the elementary student — but it is not the whole truth. The second example is from a textbook at the opposite end of the educational spectrum, American Constitutional Law (fisher, L., 1990, McGraw-Hill, New York, N.Y.). In a chapter titled “Racial Discrimination” and subtitled “Slavery,” there is an analysis of the relationship between slavery, the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Jefferson. It states: “A more fundamental problem was how to reconcile slavery with the principles in the Declaration of Independence.

For this there could be no compromise. A nation could not proclaim that `all men are created equal’ and at the same time condone slavery. Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a sharp condemnation of slavery.”

Again, the material does not tell the whole truth. Based upon the text, the student would logically conclude that this nation did not “compromise” on the slavery issue. That is an incorrect conclusion. The final version of the Declaration of Independence is the compromise. Slavery is not mentioned in the final document.

However, the student is not provided the final version of the Declaration of Independence and therefore cannot readily compare and analyze the two documents in an attempt to reach an informed conclusion as to whether or not Jefferson or this nation compromised on the issue of slavery. By solely relying on this material, students will reach incorrect conclusions because the whole truth was not told.

If the entire story had been told by providing both the draft and the final version of the Declaration of independence, students would reach a different conclusion.

Analysis of the final version of the Declaration of Independence would reveal that the nation proclaimed that “all men are created equal” but, in that same document, failed to recognize and could not reconcile the existence of slavery within its borders.

Based upon the text, the student could further conclude that Thomas Jefferson condemned the institution of slavery. The story omits the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder. Again, incomplete information Leads to a distorted view of the whole story.

The two examples provided are from extremes in educational levels. However, the conclusions are applicable to all levels, all texts, and all curriculums that are not inclusionary. The institutions of higher education must pave the path to curriculum review. The truth is not enough. The whole truth must be told.

VANESSA J. LAWRENCE, Assistant Professor, School of Business and Management, Temple University

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