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Vanaski: History lessons lacking, so Black History Month fills a need

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 10:36 p.m.

Black History Month was days away when I received this year's first letter from a reader saying she didn't understand why we need it.

“If the goal is that all Americans be treated equally and fairly, as it should be, then why not have a Great American Month and include African-American arts with artwork created by whites, Hispanics, Native Americans etc.,” she wrote.

This is actually not a bad point. In a perfect world, we would have moved past the place where you have to put Black History Month on a calendar if you ever wanted to learn about George Washington Carver and all the things he could do with a peanut. But Carver, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth did their historic deeds in America, so that should be covered under American history.

Right — in a perfect world. But in our world we have school board members who publicly say such things as: “I am concerned about the multiculturalism and the emphasis on it. I think the texts emphasize that to the detriment of the exceptionalism of America. We saw a sad, sad example of that at the Boston Marathon.”

That was Jane Tower, whom voters place on the Franklin Regional School District board in West-moreland County. She was challenging the content of certain history books.

Before the board eventually approved these textbooks last spring, Tower had some advice for teachers discussing slavery with students:

“It's not always right to judge (history) in the context of today. With slavery, you have to take it in the context of the time. It's not an excuse. But the idea is to be grateful that we have improved today.”

Tower, contacted on Wednesday, emphasized that she is not pro-slavery.

Knowing American history and having just seen the movie “12 Years A Slave,” I'm gonna say it's safe to judge slave owners at any point in history. Considering that the film is based on the true story of a free black man who was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery, I feel comfortable reaching the conclusion that under any context whipping a human being within an inch of life or ripping apart a family unit so you can get your fields tended is horrible.

Something tells me that even then, there were people floating the theory that it wasn't right to treat a human like property.

Let's not even get into how dangerous it is to suggest that if only we were all the same, we wouldn't have terrorism like the Boston Marathon bombing. Not today, anyway.

It sounds as though Tower is saying that teaching children about other cultures led to a terrorist bombing. That makes me think that some school board members are not necessarily sold on the concept of telling students about the full history of our country and how other ethnic groups fit into that.

How old were you, or what grade were you in, when you learned that Japanese-Americans were held in internment camps in the United States during World War II? I was in high school. My husband thinks he was older — maybe college. There's no month for Japanese-American history, but it doesn't mean that should not be part of a learning experience.

But this is an imperfect world. So instead, we have Black History Month.

Nafari Vanaski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, or on Twitter @NafariTrib.

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