Final Written Exercise
The most important lesson I have learned from this class is that history, at least the history taught in
classrooms, is not an accurate, unbiased account of the past. In reality, history presented by highly
regulated textbooks has been twisted in such a way that students are not given a clear picture of past
events, individuals, and conflicts. Various interest groups and demographics have essentially dictated
which information can rightfully be published, and which information is too threatening to reach the
pages. According to author Alexander Stille, â€œAmerican history taught in schools has been rewritten and
transformed in recent decades by a handful of large publishers who are more concerned to meet the
demands of both the multicultural left and the conservative religious rightâ€ (The Betrayal of History). In
essence, textbooks have reworked history in such a way that it has become falsified and flavorless. Facts
are presented without controversy, and important historical figures are portrayed without blemish. As
historian James Loewen writes, â€œauthors selectively omit blemishes to make certain historical figures
sympathetic to as many people as possibleâ€ (Loewen, 26). This quotation declares that authors withhold
relevant historical information from textbooks, which further supports the idea that history has been
continually distorted in todayâ€™s classrooms.
In regards to Christopher Columbus, I learned that he was not the â€œAmerican heroâ€ that textbooks
portray him as being. As we all know, he was credited for â€œdiscovering America,â€ yet he was not the first
non-Native to reach the Americas. 2â€œPeople from other continents had reached the Americas many
times before 1492. Europeans may already have been fishing off Newfoundland in the 1480sâ€ (Loewen,
33). Also, I was previously unaware that Columbus was involved in the murder and persecution of many
Native Americans. In fact, he initiated a punishing policy that â€œresulted in complete genocideâ€ of the
Natives (Zinn, 7). Finally, I learned the shocking statistic that there were as many as 120 million Native
Americans by 1492 (Discussion 2). Upon learning this number, I was completely stunned, as I had
severely underestimated the size of their population.
As little kids, we are all told the story of the pious, freedom-seeking Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth.
Additionally, we all learned about the â€œFirst Thanksgivingâ€ where the Native Americans and Pilgrims
peacefully united for a wonderful, bountiful feast. This story, however, is historically inaccurate. In
reality, the Pilgrims were not seeking religious freedom at all, because they had already found that in
the Netherlands (Discussion 3). Furthermore, the Pilgrims were very economically driven. In fact, â€œprofit
was the primary reason most Mayflower colonists made the tripâ€ (Loewen, 87). Nevertheless, American
society perpetuates the story of the brave Pilgrims because it advances the â€œAmerican psyche,â€ which
characterizes Americans as the immaculate, indelible race (Loewen, 70).
Before this course, I did not have an accurate picture of the realities of the American slave trade. In all
honesty, I had no idea that the slave trade was so large and widespread. Yet, as I soon learned, slavery
absolutely dominated the economy of the South. 3For instance, â€œin 1790, a thousand tons of cotton
were being produced every year in the South. By 1860, it was a million tons. 4In the same period,
500,000 slaves grew to 4 millionâ€ (Zinn, 171). This excerpt from A Peopleâ€™s History of the United States
demonstrates that slavery was a major force in American society. Fast-forwarding to the present, I was
completely oblivious to the fact that slavery still exists today, even here in the United States (Discussion
7). Also, I was upset to discover that â€œeverything we touch today-from the bricks that make up the
exterior of our homes, to the rug on the floors- has been touched by the hand of a slaveâ€ (Discussion 7).
As a testament to my ignorance, I was under the impression that slavery, for the most part, had become
nonexistent in todayâ€™s modern world.
One week ago, I did not even know what the Gilded Age was. Now, I understand it as a time where a
handful of extremely wealthy individuals, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, owned most
of the countryâ€™s wealth (Discussion 9). 1Laborers, however, received â€œwages that barely kept their
families aliveâ€ (Zinn, 257). Worker compensation, unfortunately, was only the tip of the iceberg.
Additionally, factory conditions during this time were extremely hazardous. â€œIn the year 1904, 27,000
workers were killed on the job, in manufacturing, transport, and agriculture. 3In one year, 50,000
accidents took place in New York factories aloneâ€ (Zinn, 327). The conditions described above ultimately
sparked the emergence of the Progressive movement, which fought to ameliorate these circumstances.
1In general, the Progressives strove to â€œstabilize the capitalist system by repairing its worst defects. and
restore some measure of class peace in a time of increasingly bitter clashes between capital and laborâ€
I found imperialism to be one of the most fascinating topics this semester. In essence, imperialism was a
mechanism that allowed Americans â€œto find foreign purchasers for [their] goods. and provide the means
of making access to foreign markets easy, economical, and safeâ€ (Zinn, 306). In my opinion, imperialism
is an example of American greed, which led to the abuse of its power.
Regarding World War II, I want to spend a little bit of time discussing the Holocaust. Previously, I
thought that the Jews were the only people targeted by the Nazis. However, I learned that Africans,
Asians, the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, and gypsies were all persecuted by the Third
Reich (Discussion 13). Also, I had never really seen what the concentration camps truly looked like.
Needless to say, I was absolutely shocked to see thousands of dead bodies just piled up, as if they were
not even there at all. Even more disgusting was the way the Nazis just threw the bodies into pits, with
absolutely no respect whatsoever (Memory of the Camps). After the Holocaust, the United States vowed
to never let anything of this nature happen again. However, recently hundreds of thousands have died
in Darfur (Discussion 13). It is upsetting to me that the United States has not done more to help stop this
Throughout this class, I have learned that we, as U.S. citizens, are not completely aware of the actions of
our government. For instance, I discovered that the government has â€œorchestrated the oustings of
political leaders,â€ and that â€œwe had a hand in assassinating many foreign leadersâ€ (Discussion 14). This
demonstrates that the United States believes that it should intervene in foreign affairs, as long as this
intervention promotes our own interests. As in the Vietnam War, the United States got unnecessarily
involved and ended up being embarrassed by a much less powerful army. While the anti-war sentiment
in America was high, possibly the highest of all time, the government still felt the need to deploy troops
to Vietnam. 5In my opinion, the U.S. government should make more of an effort to heed public opinion.
To conclude, I want to discuss my general opinions of textbooks and publishing companies. The general
trend throughout history is that the most wealthy, powerful, and privileged have had the greatest
influence on events and outcomes of the past. In textbook publishing, â€œmembers of the upper class have
had a hand in itâ€ (Loewen, 306). This has to change, so that future students are given an unbiased,
impartial layout of past events. If textbooks continue to cater to the needs of particular groups, then
history will never be a worthwhile class to take. Considering the â€œday-to-day resistanceâ€ that students
display towards classes, teachers and textbooks should do a better job telling the exciting, historically
accurate story of the past in order to spark studentsâ€™ interest (Loewen, 341). Overall, I am glad to have
taken a class that focuses on the real story, rather than the sugar-coated, bland version of history that
so many students must endure each year.
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