What’s Missing In Our History Textbooks?


Brianna O’Callaghan, Reporter

After more than 150 years since the emancipation of African Americans, textbooks have left out a large portion of black history entirely. From calling African slaves “immigrants” to casually leaving out crucial leaders of the Civil Right movement, textbooks seem to be going off in a different direction than history. 

From misrepresentation to the guarding of black history, schools are leaving out a most crucial and significant part of what should be in school textbooks.

The representation of black figures in textbooks today is lacking. Majority of the stories students hear today from lessons in textbooks have come from early European settlers leaving many voices, primarily minority, unheard. Since textbooks reflect how times were in the 1800s, for example, pop culture during that time leaves out black contributions entirely. From black cowboys to the first and only black-owned automobile company, significant black roles are being hidden from the classroom. 

Talk about slavery and the effects of it is heavily guarded in the classroom. Whitewashing, the act of glossing over difficult topics, is a tool that textbooks all over the United States have been using. One study done by The Museum of African American History and Culture in 2015 found that only about 8% of the time in history class was devoted to learning about black history. These difficult topics can be uncomfortable to talk about, but open discussions about these events in history lead to a better understanding. The second textbooks start opening the eyes of students, the more open teachers can be about some of the struggles African Americans faced.  

According to a 2019 study by Teachers Tolerance, textbooks aren’t always spot on with history. The study pointed out that many textbook contributors exclude certain information to influence the understanding of the students. Ever heard of Claudette Colvin? She was the first African American to refuse to give a seat to a white woman on the bus, but because she was a young, single mother, she was never given the spotlight like Rosa Parks. A chunk of history has been taken from history lessons from the beginning of time, and for students first learning about the struggle of black Americans, all of America’s history needs to be taught. 

Conversations over slavery and the emancipation era can be undeniably difficult to have. Many argue that students aren’t equipped to handle those parts of history, but it is history nonetheless. Students need to learn about these truths starting in high school in order to begin adulthood with the understanding of all history, not just white history. 

Overall, students are not receiving the full story of black struggle throughout history. The lack of representation and information needed in our textbooks leaves students without the full story.