Teaching all history is important

Teaching the history of different groups and how they arrived here is part of the tapestry that is Idaho or any state, writes guest columnist Rebecca Tallent.

February 14, 2023 4:05 am
Japanese-American signs up for military service in Idaho Falls

In this April 1942 photo, a Japanese-American resident registers for the Selective Service for men ages 45-65 during World War II in Idaho Falls in Bonneville County. (John Vachon/Library of Congress photo archives)

 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is discouraging teaching Black history in state high school classrooms.

Why? DeSantis said it “pushes a political agenda” which lacks educational standards. He is also proposing banning state universities from teaching diversity and inclusion theories.

What they are really saying is the work of Black Americans – or any minority group – and the sociological theories surrounding those groups has tiny value. It is a thinly veiled bit of intolerance intended to prove the European actions are always superior, other voices are of little or no consequence.

Teaching the full history of an area which includes minority experiences is not about making people feel guilty for what their ancestors may or may not have done. It is a way for the majority to understand why minorities often believe and/or react the way they do.

I cannot count how many times as a professor I had students say they did not understand something about a racial minority. They had no clue why certain words were considered offensive, nor could they understand why some groups were a bit distrustful of Anglos. Many of these students also said they had never met a person of color in their hometown.

The diversity of state like Florida is much more pronounced than Idaho. The U.S. Census Bureau shows Florida is 61.1 percent Caucasian, 18 percent Hispanic and 14.4 percent Black as of 2020. USA Facts show as of 2022 Idaho is 81.1 percent White, down a bit from 2010 when it was 84 percent Caucasian. Other racial groups are gaining state residency, especially Hispanic/Latino, which has risen from 177,004 (11.3 percent) in 2010 to 251,919 (13.3 percent) in 2022.

Also increasing in Idaho population are Asian (18,740 in 2010 to 28,376 in 2022); Native American/Alaska Native (17,630 in 2010 to 20,059 in 2022); Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (2,202 in 2010 to 3,453 in 2022); Black (8,964 in 2010 to 14,597 in 2022) and multi racial – non-Hispanic (26,081 in 2010 to 41,056 in 2022).

Teaching the history of different groups and how they arrived here is part of the tapestry that is Idaho or any state. I suspect most people do not know about the Black flight from the American South to southeastern Idaho during the early 20th century. Nor do many people understand the contributions made by Asian miners. Fewer still probably understand the legacy of Native tribes or other groups.

Insight into the background and history of different cultures is essential in today’s world. We are a multicultural country, one that not only does business with other countries but also with U.S.-based entities with a non-White background. To have students not understand even the most basic concept of other cultures puts them at a great disadvantage both professionally and personally.

On the other side, as a Cherokee raised in Oklahoma, where Native American history was pretty much left out of the curriculum, I know this omission makes people of color and other minority groups truly feel “other” in society. Unwelcome, unwanted.

During the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots, one of the most common remarks I heard was “I never knew that happened,” even from people who were educated in Oklahoma schools. Understanding what happened and why opened a lot of people’s eyes about why the Greenwood section of Tulsa was always so closed to any non-Black group. The history made it too painful to respect the establishment, creating multiple problems within the city for generations.

It goes to show a little education can go a long way to create understanding which can benefit everyone.

Many educational groups say by teaching the history of other races, people of color can feel included and therefore more motivated to learn. It also can build bridges between teachers and students as they learn about each other’s own cultural backgrounds. The American Psychological Association say this is especially important for self-esteem issues, particularly when people are mixed race or come from mixed families.

February is African American History Month, it should also serve as a reminder African Americans have made significant contributions to this country, and yet while they are 15 percent of the overall population they comprise 38.4 percent of the prison population, leaving an overall negative image. Black, Native, Asian and other groups in American are all deserving of recognition, of being seen as possessing value both in and out of the classroom.

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Rebecca Tallent
Rebecca Tallent

An award winning journalist and public relations professional, Rebecca "Becky" Tallent was a journalism faculty member at the University of Idaho for 13 years before her retirement in 2019. Tallent earned her BA and M.Ed. degrees in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma and her Educational Doctorate in Mass Communications from Oklahoma State University. She is of Cherokee descent and is a member of the Native American Journalists Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. She and her husband, Roger Saunders, live in Moscow, Idaho, with their two cats.