Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. ~ Nelson Mandela Click To Tweet
That quote just about says it all, doesn’t it? Academia, as it is currently championed, has been built with the goal of liberating our minds from the mystifying, and often draconian, world views of the past. And it does, in many ways. Children attain numerous skills that will serve them over the course of their lives, learning, growing and fostering perspectives that will aid them in their quests for continuing education and excellence for a long time to come. All is well and good.
Yet there’s a pesky little thing about written history, and how we humans have, historically, gone about it. It’s called the noble lie, and it’s an idea that Plato presented his book, The Republic, way back in 380 BC.
And, like or not, it persists today. There is a common thread amongst many different school systems around the world that continue to perpetuate harmful myths (and sometimes downright lies) through their current curriculum and teaching. Sorry, but not all textbooks are created equal.
How can we expect our children to properly exercise their incredible powers of critical thinking if we’re not even presenting them with the facts? Well, we start by de-mystifying some of the worst lies. Here are 10 of them.
10) The Founding Fathers were all Christian
This is a very well known myth that nonetheless continues to be perpetuated and taught as the truth all across America. History classes have long been teaching that all of the founding founders were of the Christian faith. Because, historically, so many pieces of this country’s history have mentions of God — things like the Declaration of Independence, the pledge of allegiance and the small matter of “In God We Trust” being printed on our currency.
However, this is simply a widespread falsehood. Yet another of the many harmful myths surrounding both politics and religion. For some, God does not automatically equal Christianity. All of the founding fathers were not Christian. (And interestingly enough, much of the democracy they crafted was actually based on that of the Native Americans.)
It’s been well documented that both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson considered themselves deists, which is someone who believes in a higher power, but does not necessarily follow the Bible or the theories of Christianity. John Adams and George Washington, while believing in forms of God, also did not have any preference towards Christianity. George Washington believed that God was nature, and John Adams’ was a Unitarian.
Easily one of the most harmful myths still being perpetuated, the entire idea of Thanksgiving and the way that it is often portrayed in textbooks is a highly romanticized version (to put it lightly) of what actually took place during that time.
As the story goes, the Native Americans willfully helped the Pilgrims plant corn because of a harsh winter, and upon the first bountiful harvest the next fall, they all sat down together to break bread and celebrate the food.
What happened in reality, however, is much more horrid. Only it’s not in our textbooks, but theirs. Although the pilgrims and the Native Americans did break bread, it was never a tradition that was implemented nor did it happen annually, due mainly to actions on the part of the pilgrims that were filled with greed, power and a chilling lack of empathy.
The mass genocides and land-wars that took place, of course, still remain nowhere to be found in most American textbooks, absurdly focusing instead on ‘that one time’ when the two parties came together for a meal instead. Thank god for the internet.
A wonderful fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. Firstly, Pocahontas was just 12 years old when John Smith and his brigade of men landed in the New World. He was 27. So already, as far as the legal (by present standards) and emotional ramifications go, the trajectory of the story changes tenfold.
It has also been proven nowhere, in any piece of historical text from around that time, that Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life. But something that was documented during this period in history was the proclivity he had for hyperbole. Basically, for embellishing stories and telling half-truths, even during the time they were happening. Ever play broken telephone in school? Now add a few centuries.
7) Van Gogh & His Ear
Classically tortured artist loses his mind and cuts off his own ear over a woman. We all know the story. Chances are we learned about it in art history (if we were actually in attendance at the time).
Didn’t happen. Yet you’re bound to find at least one or two intelligent, seasoned adults out there, still today, that believe this. Again, it’s a lot of broken telephone, perpetuated by word of mouth: the bizarre and crazed Van Gogh.
Yet the truth of the matter is far more mundane. The (most likely drunken) Van Gogh lost his ear while engaging in a bloody brawl with then friend and fellow artist Paul Gaugin. It is unknown what the fight was about, but the important part is him losing his ear was not his own doing. The running story is that Gaugin unsheathed his sword, sliced off Van Gogh’s ear and proceeded to lie about it in order to avoid jail.
6) Standardized Tests are an Adequate Assessment of Intelligence and Value
While this is starting to change, there is still a huge part of the country that buys into this type of one-size-fits all test, which is unfortunate, because it’s probably the most harmful of all the harmful myths on this list, as it’s still so impactful today.
These methods of testing are problematic for many different reasons, but the main problem is that they’re old. They don’t account for the leaps and bounds we’ve made in child psychology over the last 50 years, which continue to enlighten us to the inner states of students who may learn and process information differently.
Far too much clout (and resulting stress on both students and parents) has been put on these types of tests over the years. Yet studies continue to show they’re not only helpful, but harmful.
5) We Only Use 10% of our Brain
This is a myth that a number of different people have been tied to. Even Albert Einstein was said to contribute to this myth. Yet it simply isn’t true. How do we know this? Well, neuroscience tells us so. Brain scans show that most of our brains are actively lit up during rather routine functions in our everyday lives.
Also, if such a small portion of our brains were used, people who suffer strokes or brain damage probably wouldn’t experience the kind of life-altering effects that they do. Yet the myth persists — entire movies have even been made about it.
4) The Emancipation Proclamation Freed Slaves
This myth is still so widely taught in the school system that it’s quite alarming. The Emancipation Proclamation did NOT free the slaves. This is because it operated under the Confederacy, which the south (where the majority of slaves that were owned resided) had dislocated from the north, which means that President Lincoln couldn’t enforce that those states follow said rules.
It wasn’t until after the north won the Civil War between states that things really began to change, and finally, not until the 13th amendment was signed in two years later was slavery abolished once and for all.
3) The 13 Stripes on the American Flag Signify the first 13 Colonies
The majority of schools in the united states still teach the origin of the American flag. It’s said that the 13 stars and 13 stripes represent the first 13 colonies at the nation’s departure from the British, and while this is true, there is a small error in the number.
There were actually only 12 original colonies at the time, not 13. Delaware was never its own separate state when the states were just colonies; in fact, it belonged to either Maryland or Pennsylvania prior to the Revolutionary war. Because of the timeframe during which the flag was first designed and made, it was technically not a separate state that could have its stripe or star as an original.
2) The Salem Witch Trails
Much of what is recounted in schools regarding the Salem Witch Trails is actually fairly accurate. America in the 1600’s, dripping with Christianity as it was, was rife with superstition and mysticism. Word of young girls acting ‘strangely’ was especially troublesome. Must be the devil. Time to burn them at the stake.
Only, most of the “witches” who were murdered were actually hanged, not burned in a fiery pit the way some curriculum still dictates. In fact, even though the British allowed this type of execution to take place, it was not legal or authorized in the colonies.
Now, this isn’t to discount the brutality and inhumanity these innocent women underwent. The acts of persecution against them and the sheer numbers that were executed in a relatively short amount of time remain jaw-dropping, to say the least. And it’s these facts that should remain the main point of focus in the curriculum, of course.
1) Benjamin Franklin & The Kite
Never happened. And this myth, in particular, is a good example of exactly these kinds of harmful myths start.
Franklin had proposed this type of experiment, but he never actually went through with it. He had many other ideas and theories as to the existence of electricity before a kite even entered into the equation. However, over the years (broken telephone again) the myth — simply because the kite idea, of all of them, has the most novelty to it — went from word of mouth to the pen and onto paper, eventually making its way into our textbooks.
Benjamin Franklin did not discover electricity because he flew a kite during a lightning storm and it was struck by lightning. In fact, if he had been struck my lightning while holding onto a kite made with any metal, he probably wouldn’t have survived.