Understanding Each Other's Struggle
To me, the American Dream is a historic ideal promising that through hard work and individualism, any American has the ability to better their situation and to find success. This message is certainly embedded in our culture, given that our nation was founded by immigrants seeking greater personal freedoms and new beginnings upon which they could build prosperous lives. Still, I think this message has definitely endured as America has historically appeared to the world as a beacon of hope about the existence of equality; this characterization extends to the values we instill in our children, as well, as in my experience each child is taught that in America, personal drive is the determiner of success. At school, my ethnic identity meant nothing to me for the vast majority of my life – as a white person, it was something I truly did not consider until I had reached adolescence. Because I was brought up on information that considered me, my white skin, the norm, it never crossed my mind what my race meant for me. Additionally, at school, Americans were almost always taught to be the heroes of history, saving others and always doing “the right thing,” so almost all of my role models were white historical figures that I had been taught about. For this reason, my race was never a barrier in my education, and was not something that I had to consider until I became more aware of the implications of race and the privilege that I held in not having to think about race in the context of my education. I do feel that my identities are fairly accurately represented at school, but I also believe that the biggest disparity in accuracy of information is found in race, as opposed to gender or sexual identity. I feel that the area in which we have the most room to improve the quality and scope of our education is within race, especially given the fact that white Americans have nearly always been taught as heroes in the past, even in situations in which we have acted unethically. I do not feel that conversations regarding sexuality at school are productive because these conversations do not exist in a school setting except among friends. There is still a great deal of stigma regarding sexuality, and we are rarely taught about the significance of LGBT movements in history or English classes. The worst part of this disparity of information, to me, is in the realm of health classes. Our sex-ed is incredibly one sided, with no education given about queer relationships, leaving many students ill-prepared. Lastly, while I believe this dearth of information to be a problem, the most harmful thing about it is the shame and stigma that it places on LGBT youth. As long as we refrain from having normal conversations about queerness in all environments, including at school, we will not have acceptance and queer youth will still struggle. If I could change my curricula at school, I would like for it to be a great deal more inclusive of all aspects of history, not just from an American perspective that often portrays America as a historical hero. Certainly, in American and World history there is a great deal of room for change in including more diverse perspectives and understanding that America has not always been ethical. I think it’s important to understand that America has often exploited other underprivileged groups for the country’s own gain and progress – we must know about our drawbacks as well as moments of pride in order to build a more equitable, fair future. An example of this issue is that the majority of American history classes begin with colonialism (which is portrayed as a positive thing), and not with indigenous peoples living on North America before Europeans came. There is a rich history and culture to be learned, and perhaps in educating youth about the fact that our land was occupied with complex societies before we built America, we can build greater respect and
knowledge of steps to take to right these wrongs in present day America. This issue extends to all underrepresented groups – in education, I think there is hope for building greater respect and equity, if we take the right steps to include diverse perspectives. To me, the danger of a white, male-centric historical narrative is that it erases the stories and perspectives of numerous groups of people and perpetuates stories that may not be completely true. Education is our hope for creating greater understanding among people and for knowing of our history as Americans so that we might improve. In learning only one biased perspective, I think instill the same bias in our children, perpetuating both internalized and subconscious racism and limiting our ability to progress.