UW-Madison professor explains disparities in American history education

MADISON, Wis.– During the past weeks of protesting, several speakers pointed out that textbooks often skip over key events in the telling of American history, most events having to do with critical moments in Black history.

As a professor of Black history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Christy Clark-Pujara said she sees the disparities told in history from the students in her classes.

“They come in with a lot of fairy-tale,” Clark-Pujara said. “The vast majority of them have no idea how central and important race-based slavery was to the economic stability of the colonies, nor do they have an understanding of the centrality of slavery and the founding of the nation.”

Clark-Pujara explained the curriculum is a one-sided telling of American history that begins as a young student, adding that a simple example is the way the Constitution is taught.

“The vast majority of my students have never heard of the Constitution as a pro-slavery document, even though there are very clear cut ties to slavery,” Clark-Pujara said. “I spend a lot of time explaining that to them, that it wasn’t just a freedom document, it wasn’t just a slavery document. It was both.”

Not understanding all perspectives of history contributes to racism in the Unites States, according to Clark-Pujara.

“You don’t understand systemic racism. You don’t understand institutional racism. You think that those are just liberal buzz words to get people up in arms, and they’re not rooted in something real and tangible,” Clark-Pujara said.

For real change, Clark-Pujara said the true telling of American history needs to begin in kindergarten.

“It’s never too early to start, and I know some people want to push back because they say, ‘Oh well, kids that age can’t digest some of the horrors that are a part of American history,'” Clark-Pujara said. “Well, we are fine with telling our young children all about the Holocaust. Why are Americans so fine with telling children about the Holocaust? Because Americans get to be the heroes.”

Clark-Pujara said adults need to push for public conversation and funded policy changes.

“To really care about freedom, liberty and justice, we have to tell the good with the bad, the ugly with the pretty, and understand that criticism of the United States is a patriotic act in and of itself,” Clark-Pujara said.

Clark-Pujara said a good way to start is by picking up some books that share the history of Black people in America.