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Teaching False History and Its Consequences

recorded 12/8/07

1) 3:00 Radio Essay - Mp3

Teaching False History (And Its Consequences)

{col. writ. 12/8/07} (c) '07 Mumia Abu-Jamal


    Ask any school kid in the U.S. to name the first English settlement in what we now call America, and he (or she) will probably announce, "Jamestown!". Some will add, "Virginia!". And the truly nerdy would answer, "in 1607!"

    Such children of the "No Child Left Behind" generation will beam in their beautiful, childlike brilliance, for no doubt they would recall that just such answers as these earned passing grades on their history tests.

    And we know that tests are right, right?



    The first English settlement was established over a generation before Jamestown --in a place called Roanoke Island, in 1584, and 1587, off the coast of what is today called North Carolina.

    Why are school kids taught about Jamestown, but rarely Roanoke Island?

    Because Jamestown survived, and Roanoke vanished.

    Dozens of novels and at least a 1/2 dozen movies have been made of Roanoke Island, but the people were lost to witchcraft, to native spirits, or, in the best telling of the tale, they 'went Native' and joined local tribes.

    The real reason is a bit more grisly.

    History lecturer and writer, William Loren Katz, in his remarkable book, Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage (New York: Simon Pulse, 2005), [orig. 1986] tells us that an eerily American ailment afflicted them.  Katz writes:

                    What the pioneers did was self-destruct over their own love of possession.  When a silver cup allegedly disappeared, the Roanoke men roared out of their tiny enclave, muskets and torches in hand, to destroy their Indian neighbors' village and crops. This blazing display of European possession -mania cut the colony off from the one local source of help.

When the Spanish Armada severed the settlements' connection to British ports, it withered and died. [p.21]

    In essence, telling kids the truth about Roanoke might destroy their sense of nascent nationalism, and perhaps scare them.  Instead, it's Jamestown - or perhaps Plymouth Rock, the site of the beginning of that glorious theocracy of 1620.

    If Roanoke's story were better known, perhaps lessons would be learned that stealing from others, and raiding others isn't a good, nor glorious thing; perhaps it would be an historical lesson about the perils of greed, or in Katz's words, "possession-mania."

    Americans of all ages, know little about the real contours of the making of America, which owed more to sheer genocide than anything else.

    In this same book, Katz details how England and Spain wreaked havoc upon the indigenous people of the Americas:

                    In the century following Columbus' landing, millions of Native Americans died from a combination of European diseases, harsh treatment, and murder.  Africans took their

places in the mines and fields of the New World.  The 80 million Native Americans alive

in 1492 became only 10 million left alive a century later.  But the 10,000 Africans working in

the Americas in 1527, had by the end of the century become 90,000 people. These figures

are even more striking within local areas.  In 1519 when the Spaniards arrived, Mexico had

a population of 25 million Indians.  By the end of the century only a million were still alive.

The invader calculated that more profit would be made if laborers were worked to death and

replaced.  In their plans pain and suffering did not count, and no cruelty was considered

excessive. [p.23]

    Perhaps if kids were taught this version of history, the mad dash of imperialism that marked much of the 20th century would not have occurred.

--(c) '07 maj



[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the
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