As I was leaving class Tuesday, one of my students good-naturedly quipped, “So, what are you going to make us feel bad about next class?”
This student was referring to the past week of classes, during which we have discussed lynching photographs on the Without Sanctuary website and the mythology of the Old West and watched clips from Bamboozled (the show pilot scene) and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (depicting the 1890 massacre).
I understood what the student was saying. The history we’re discussing isn’t pleasant, and it probably does seem like I’m only introducing topics that highlight the horrible things that have happened in our nation’s history.
Early in my teaching career, I chose to focus on debunking American mythology. Part of that choice came from reading James Loewen’s deconstruction of history textbooks during my first semester of teaching. Another reason for the choice is because it’s more interesting to look at humanity’s ugliness. It’s not an either/or proposition for me, but I would much rather discuss the Holocaust and internment of Japanese Americans than fight World War II battles or look at the disputes among the constitutional delegates than celebrate their points of agreement.
Does this make me cynical? Maybe. Am I revisionist? In the sense that all history is revisionist, yes. Am I doing students a disservice? That’s for them to decide.
Update: Joseph Adelman has dubbed me Professor Downer.