By Mshinda Nyofu
U.S. Congressman Steven A. King (R-IA), speaking recently on MSNBC segment, disparaged the historic contributions of non-Europeans.
He said: “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other ‘subgroup’ of people contribute more to civilization?”
As an experienced social justice educator, I was not shocked by his uninformed and xenophobic utterance. However, I am compelled to respond, as this is a teachable moment for the country
First, when a U.S. congressperson cannot find a single contribution of African, Asian, Latino and Native American/Indigenous civilizations, it stands as an indictment on America’s history curriculum
Second, Mr. King’s statement serves as a severe critique of the whole American educational system that maintains his type of thinking through its omissions, distortions and reductive translations of human contributions.
The teaching of history and social studies leave out the peoples of ancient Egypt with their foundational contributions to disciplines of knowledge; the peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy with their concepts of governance that were incorporated into the U.S. Constitution; the peoples of Mali with their unquenchable thirst for knowledge at the University of Sankore in Timbuktu; the Moors’ indelible influence in Spain, which helped bring Europe out of the “Dark Ages”; the Mayan sacred literature from the Popol Vuh; and China’s Admiral Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty, who led important expeditions across the oceans prior to Columbus.
Social studies and history curriculums must be transformed into social justice curriculums through culturally responsive pedagogy as described by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings; African-centered curriculum as advanced by Dr. Maulana Karenga and factual curriculum as described by historian James W. Loewen.
All our children must be taught who they really are.
Mshinda Nyofu, M.S. is a Social Studies teacher in Houston, Texas and a doctoral student at the Fielding Graduate University.