Wednesday, November 2, 2016

History Repeats Itself, but How Can it Not?

If we don't learn from history, we're doomed to repeat it. I'm paraphrasing a well-known quote by George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher. His point makes perfect sense. When we don't learn from our past, we continue to make the same mistakes. But, how can we expect to learn from a history we are never taught?

The sad truth is that most of us learned a watered down version of our history and did not question it. Maybe I shouldn't speak for others. I accepted it. At least, until eighth grade. Throughout my early years I enjoyed history class and the textbooks used to teach it. I had full trust in my teachers and school and expected that they told the whole truth. However, I was sitting in US History in Mr. Boyd's eighth grade class when I read a paragraph about Puerto Rico's role in United State's history. ONE PARAGRAPH. I remember flipping the page, thinking that the rest was on the other page. After all, how can a place that is neither its own country, nor a state, yet be so closely aligned with the United States only have a paragraph worth of information? I remember being pissed off that the publisher spent less than a quarter of a page on my history, and even more amazed that this could happen at a school named after a Puerto Rican poet! I asked my teacher about it and he stumbled in his response, trying to placate me with the little knowledge he had about the subject. I wasn't upset with him. He had he same limited history education that I did. I was upset with the whole education system that didn't think I was worth a complete history, that didn't think my history mattered. Flipping through the book, the same treatment was given to the Civil Rights Movement, Native Americans, and the role of the other Americas in regards to the US. Whole chunks of history were completely omitted. 

As I got older and pursued these topics on my own, the exclusions made less and less sense. How are we supposed to avoid the past if we don't know the whole picture? I certainly did not know the whole picture about what happened to pave the way for me to attend the same public school as my German and Polish neighbor, or why certain members of my family could serve in the military, yet not vote for their own Commander in Chief. I did not know that lives had been lost to grant me, and other women the right to vote, or the intricacies of the many wars that has divided our world. What good was my education if it wasn't showing me the true story and all the gory details that led to systemic issues affecting me as a Latina, as a female, as an American? How was I supposed to influence my world when I didn't know what exactly had shaped it to begin with? It was all so unfair and made so little sense. I wish I could say that my daughter doesn't face the same questions, but the respect and regard for accurate history has not evolved. Some can argue that technology helps remediate this, but it only works if you actively seek the knowledge and sadly, that's not always possible if access, time or both are limited. 

On the flip-side, digital information can easily be manipulated. You should question what you see on the Internet, and sadly, that's the same mindset that makes it easy to discredit the historic artifacts shared through this means. We wonder what's been doctored, or PhotoShopped. We aren't used to this information as part of the history we're taught, so where does it fit? How can we remember what we haven't accepted as truth? Knowledge is power and knowledge comes from experience - that of our own and those that came before us. It is unfair to expect that we learn from something that has never been shared. When we look at current events, how can we look to the past to help us resolve the future if the past that has been taught is incomplete?

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