HISTORY COURSE PROPOSAL
To Whom It May Concern,
There is a lack in diversity of the history classes provided at SUNY New Paltz. According to the school website, most history classes offered are United States and European history, which is fantastic, but that leaves out the rest of the world. That is not to say classes in these other categories are not offered; they are very limited, as opposed to Western history. If there is no variety in history classes, different perspectives are not represented, and only one side of history is presented. The simple solution would be to hire more history professors. However, this issue may not prove to be so simple, with current budget cuts and especially with the lack of general interest in history. And yet the university could offer a brief, one-credit modular course that will help students differentiate between the myths and realities of history, which will then generate more interest in the subject.
Susan Lewis, a professor at SUNY New Paltz who is currently supervising one-credit history independent studies and fieldwork, confirms that it would cost the school no more than $1,000 a year to hire an adjunct instructor for the proposed class. The class, about the size of 20 students or more, would meet once a week for a few hours to discuss what is taught in public schools and what actually occurred in history, and, perhaps briefly, why history is taught the way it is (because the question will inevitably arise). They could also view clips from and discuss Hollywood historical films because the films are almost always full of inaccuracies that become part of myth building and the creation of common misconceptions. Furthermore, as a first-year student, I am constantly trying to find ways to fill gaps in my schedule so that I can meet the recommended 15 credits per semester, and qualify as a sophomore in my second year of college, which will allow me to take higher-level courses. I know I am not the only one encountering this issue, as many other students are also scrambling to find classes that are open to them and add up to 15 credits because they would like to graduate in the recommended four years. As a result, many students end up with an unsatisfactory schedule because the amount of classes available to them is limited. This proposed class might also be a remedy for this problem, as it would enlighten students on how fascinating history truly is.
Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors.” If this is true, who are they to be? When Rome expanded its empire, those who were defeated were slaughtered or sold into slavery. Since this is no longer valid, at least in civilized societies, there are always two sides of a story, often more, rather than the solidary conviction of the victor. There is the lie people are told without words that there is only one truth. This has been accepted without question and has become the cultural hegemony. In reality, there are two kinds of history. There is the history that is written down, and the history that is not forgotten, but slips through the cracks; the one that was always there, but requires seeking. All people have to do is look, and the proposed class will guide students in this process of inquiry and discovery. Many students are not aware that American historiography in public schools is alarmingly biased, as it mainly focuses on the “good” events and overlooks the unheroic ones in American history. Students are not even aware that they are not aware, hence, the established cultural hegemony. It may seem daunting when beginning to learn about history, since so much is not taught in public school systems without misrepresentation, but this class could be a start.
As stated by the American Legion, the ideal textbook must: “inspire children with patriotism; be careful to tell the truth optimistically; dwell on failure only for its value as a moral lesson; [and] speak chiefly of success….” (Loewen 302). Yet the purpose of history is not to “inspire patriotism,” but to understand and learn from past mistakes. Censoring history for the sake of patriotism brings to mind George Orwell’s dystopian fiction novel, 1984, in which the protagonist rewrites his country’s historical records for nationalistic aims. The creation of a national fiction by way of historical revisionism is a form of propaganda, since nations adopting such methods twist the truth to justify the inevitability and righteousness of their country’s supposed victories. It is not unlike the strategies practiced by totalitarian regimes and dictatorships (i.e. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany). Certainly, SUNY New Paltz is not like any of those entities. And since students have graduated from government-funded public schools only to pay obscene amounts of money for their college education, they deserve the truth. Once students begin to distinguish the truth from fabrications in this proposed class, history will be more enjoyable because it will not merely be a repetition of the history classes most have already endured for 12 or more years.
American students have been told distortions of real events their entire lives, thus the war against ignorance will be a war hard won. If a lie is repeated enough, people start to take it as the truth, which is why there is always something to learn. There are always reasons to know why people did the things they did, because they are still relevant and illustrate why today is the way it is. The past is essential to the understanding of the present. William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Consequently, from this class, a new group of historians would emerge, who can better educate others because they have been honestly informed here at SUNY New Paltz. I hope you will take my request into consideration. Thank you.
Lewis, Susan. Email interview. 15 Nov 2012.
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. 2nd ed. New York: Touchstone, 2007. Print.
“State University of New York at New Paltz: Fall 2012 Schedule of Classes.” State University of New York at New Paltz. n.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov 2012.
“State University of New York at New Paltz: Spring 2013 Schedule of Classes.” State University of New York at New Paltz. n.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov 2012.