race, history, and change

Reading just a few sentences of F. V. N. Painter’s History of Education (1886) tells you that things were very different at that time. Here were a few things that sounded off alarm bells in my head:

  • the use of “manhood” instead of “adulthood”
  • “the end of education is complete human development”
  • “education is not creative”
  • “Asia is the birthplace of the human race”
  • great problems will receive their solution in Europe and North America
  • uncivilized peoples’ education is too primitive to even be of note in this book
  • other countries’ approaches to education are viewed as “very defective” and inferior to those of the Western world

Seeing these statements in a book that is over 100 years old isn’t surprising, but it definitely makes me wonder how ludicrous everything we base our world views on today will sound in a century or two. It actually reminded me a lot of this picture:Image

The term ‘race’ in the book is confusing and incorrect. Painter uses ‘race’ to refer to the human race as a whole, but also specific ethnicities/nationalities (ex. “the Mongolian race”). First of all, the term ‘race’ is completely removed from being scientifically correct. There are NO human races, just one species who happen to have differing physical characteristics as a result of adaptations to the climate in the part of the world in which they live. Granted, I’m not sure Painter was aware of this, as he lived in the era of race being used as a way to legitimize slavery (because certain ‘races’ were superior to others and could, therefore, claim them as property, not actual human beings).

When I learned that this particular textbook was used in teacher education programs, it made me realize why it takes so long to change our ways of thinking in regards to social justice issues, such as race. Our society puts so much trust in teachers to portray the correct information to students, and if teachers are taught falsified ideas, these ideas will become perpetuated in an entire generation of society. Personally, I find it quite admirable that our society has made such strides towards equality when these things were being taught in schools for so long.

Educators teach who they are and what they believe in, and I find this to be a wonderful, yet very scary, thought. How does society continue to trust that their teachers are fostering ideas of equality in their students? How can those in charge of recruiting new teachers ensure that they are hiring someone who can portray these important notions? And if the teachers fail to do this, how can the damage be undone?

-KKF