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JLeslie's avatar

What if we taught the history of hate?

Asked by JLeslie (59833points) November 9th, 2014 from iPhone

I’m American and on other Q’s I have said how much I disagree with teaching about slavery and segregation in early education (before the 6th grade). If left to me I would probably wait until 9th or 10th grade, but I can see some arguments for before that.

I was thinking today that maybe we should consider initially teaching the history of hate, rather then teaching slavery and segregation as part of an American history class. American slavery. American segregation. American discrimination towards the Irish. The Holocaust in Germany. The Muslims pushing out the Christians in the Middle East. The Catholics forcing conversion or pushing people out during the inquisition, etc.

What do you think? Isn’t the main goal to all feel like we can be the minority at any time and to be accepting if each other? We teach history to try to not repeat it.

The class would be pretty depressing maybe?

I don’t like teaching black second graders that they were slaves and treated as subhuman. I can’t see any positive in it.

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30 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

The history of hate is the history of mankind.

Teaching second grade black kids about slavery is very positive if taught properly. It involves acknowledgment of how horrible it was and that it was wrong, and that every one needs to fight against racism and discrimination.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t agree. History should be about awareness and understanding and shouldn’t be coloured from the start by emotion. The facts, if allowed, will speak for themselves.

whitenoise's avatar

Before one teaches the history of hate, one should be able to explain the nature of hate.

I feel young children don’t have the ability to understand the nature of hate and it’s hideous forms of destruction.

JLeslie's avatar

To clarify I am not in favor of teaching any of it to young children.

janbb's avatar

In NJ, Holocaust education for all grades was mandated several years ago. Of course, the curriculum is adapted appropriately to each age level. In the early years, they teach diversity acceptance with things such as apples and oranges. I would think issues such as slavery are similarly adapted age appropriately, I would hope so. And of course, one can also teach the positives such as Righteous Gentiles or Abolitionists.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The problem with that approach to History is that persecution is about a great deal more than hate. There are invariably very practical, economic, political,etc motivations behind “hateful” behavior. I agree that there is little point to teaching the horrors of history to little kids with minds unable to grasp such things in context. A stronger case should be made for inculcation of a far more thorough emphasis on History in the curriculum of our schools. Sadly, the lack of perceived economic benefits has delegated all of the “civics” disciplines to the academic basement, and the price we are paying as a society is clearly reflected in everything from our stupid wars through our gong show Congress.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The thing that stuck with me the most about the slavery years, was the Quakers and the underground railroad. I was so in awe of those people, and the chances they took with their lives to help others.

JLeslie's avatar

@Janbb All grades? Even in kindergarten. Do you think a 5 year old Jewish child needs to know Jewish children were hated and at risk?

I don’t understand why we can’t simply teach young children to treat others as we want to be treated and very basic attitudes about equality and appreciating and embracing each other for our differences.

flutherother's avatar

@stanleybmanly I would agree. Slavery for example wasn’t so much about hate as about greed.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Of course, the slaveholders saw it as more of a matter akin to valuable livestock. There was no hatred involved. Slave holders had exactly the same argument as Hitler did concerning Jews. Of course it is barbaric and intolerable to enslave people. Therefore slaves and Jews clearly aren’t people.

canidmajor's avatar

@JLeslie :I agree with @janbb, in that approaching topics in an age-appropriate way can be beneficial. A five-year-old has the emotional and intellectual capacity to understand the concepts of good and bad, and be given examples of same in a way that won’t frighten them.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It turned to hatred after emancipation.

gailcalled's avatar

I just talked to a good friend who taught 2nd graders and then kindergarteners in Manhattan for years and was considered a master teacher. He too had a mandated curriculum…grade-appropriate…that introduced issues like AIDS, slavery, and segregation. In kindergarten, he had the parents sign notes giving him permission to include their kid in the AIDS discussion. He said that he started with a sickness that was easy to catch, such as the common cold, and then a disease that was not contagious, like a heart condition and carefully worked up to AIDS.

No parent ever opted out, as far as he could remember.

By fourth grade, many kids were reading “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

LostInParadise's avatar

I would turn things around and instead frame it as teaching the history of improvement. Steven Pinker wrote a very thought provoking book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. It is a real long book and I have only read sections of it and looked at some of Pinker’s video presentations. The main point is that since the Enlightenment there has been an extraordinary change in social interactions. The very idea of human rights comes from that period in history. Pinker has graphs showing how the rate of homicide has been steadily declining. We have eliminated torture from our criminal justice system, eliminated slavery and extended the right to vote to women. Despite all the talk about how we are becoming more conservative, in more recent times we have legalized abortion and have made a good start on legalizing gay marriage.

There are certainly many problems to work on, but if looked at in the context of the 400 years, things look much more hopeful.

flutherother's avatar

It dignifies hate to consider that it even has a history. It doesn’t. Hate doesn’t build on the past like better human endeavours such as science or art it is entirely caught up in the raw angry emotions of the present. Episodes of hate in human history are aberrations and are not connected. They shouldn’t be studied together, there is no point. If you were writing your own biography would you want a chapter that listed the times you lost control?

JLeslie's avatar

I tend to be in the minority in my opinion on this topic. Unfortunately, it has also become political. Anything that sounds like someone doesn’t want to teach about slavery and segregation sounds right wing, because the right wingers are leading that charge in some states. That is not what I am saying at all though. I am just delaying when it is taught.

@canidmajor It’s not a problem of good and bad. I’m worried about a child being afraid or identifying so strongly with those oppressed that it affects their own feelings of security and self esteem.

canidmajor's avatar

@JLeslie : I think you underestimate the ability of a young child to think in the abstract. If presented properly, the children will not take the information personally, but as stories to learn from. I have memories as a 5 year old of asking my friend’s father why he had a tattoo. He asked me what I knew about WWII, then briefly told me that the numbers were supposed to mark him as different, but it was OK now. When I mentioned it in school the teacher read us a story about the Holocaust, we knew it was over, and although we felt sad we weren’t frightened.
I think I remember it so vividly because of the tattoo.

janbb's avatar

@JLeslie Ido think that unless you have knowledge of the specific curriculum, there is not much point talking in the abstract. As Isaid above there are materials developed for introducing concepts of prejudice and differences that are specifically about the Holocaust, slavery or segregation.

janbb's avatar

Edit – I meant that are not specifically about the Holocaust, slavery or segregation.

JLeslie's avatar

@janbb Those materials I might be fine with. I’ll research more what us actually being taught.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

History should be indifferent and impartial. It should only state facts and data. Teaching the “history of hate” introduces a bias by default which is not appropriate. Slavery was not about hate but about resources, misunderstanding and power.

kevbo's avatar

@JLeslie, what you are describing is addressed in a field called Critical Theory, which spans a few social sciences as well as literature and is pretty much a smorgasbord of dissecting relationships between hegemonic cultures and the people who are marginalized by them. In general, it is really fucking difficult and heady material. I wasn’t exposed to it until college, but it knocked me on my ass and fueled many years of inquiry. It really was the opposite of the narrative tone I had digested in my primary education. This page is probably a good example of what Critical Theory might look like in a classroom taught in a way akin to what you propose. (It’s also the only example I could find that was not crazy difficult to comprehend without devoting serious effort in reading—try reading the Wikipedia page.)

Regarding what the main goal is, I can see where you are coming from, but I think there’s a significant difference of opinion from yours among Americans or at least those who create curriculums. I think American history is taught to promote American exceptionalism and to attempt to unify citizens-to-be under that banner.

If you are not familiar with the book, you may also like Lies My Teacher Told Me (300+ page PDF) which explains how even straight American History is tragically compromised by our sausage-making education apparatus.

Brian1946's avatar


If you are not familiar with the book, you may also like “Lies My Teacher Told Me”.

I like this quote from that book: “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat the eleventh grade”.

kevbo's avatar

@JLeslie, this seems to be the sweet spot of what you are talking about, and I doubt anyone here, myself included, will be able to finish reading it.

@Brian1946, thanks!

Buttonstc's avatar

I really don’t understand limiting the teaching of the difficulties surrounding prejudice and hate to 6th grade and above.

That makes no sense to me whatever. And for anyone who thinks that , I would highly recommend a PBS Frontline program from years ago entitled “a Class Divided”.

It’s available both on YouTube as well as the PBS site for free.

Some of you might remember this as the recounting of Jane Elliott giving her THIRD GRADE class a vivid demonstration of prejudice (immediately following the assassination of Martin Luther King).

She divided them into Brown eyes and Blue eyes and began to treat one group more favorably than another based upon nothing else than eye color.

There are numerous interviews with many of the students as adults describing the impact this simple exercise had upon them for the rest of their lives.

There is absolutely no doubt that these 3rd graders were certainly not too young to comprehend the numerous ramifications of man’s inhumanity to man.

Some of you may recall having seen this years ago when it was first broadcast but I’d recommend it for anyone here.

If you’ve never seen it you should. Young children are quite capable of comprehending and wrestling with complex truths far more than we usually give them credit for.

If we are waiting until 6th grade, I think that’s way too late.

(I taught 3rd and 4th grades for many years and never felt the need to shy away from difficult topics. If they can ask questions about it, they deserve truthful accurate answers.)

JLeslie's avatar

@Buttonstc Children can be taught to treat everyone equally and not to hate at every age. I have no quarrel with that. In elementary school I remember our gym teacher reciting the golden rule. If it goes a little farther to actually point out differences between people that’s ok too. Like the blue eyed brown eyed example from the past (I don’t know if they still use it) and skin color hair color. But I see no need at age 7 to point out blacks used to not be able to eat at the same restaurant or go to the same school. @Janbb made the point I should look at the actual curriculum, which is a fair point, but so far I am still hesitant to change my mind.

I think we need 10 black people discussing it to get a real sense of their experience learning it in school. That’s who I’m worried about. I don’t like the Jewish kids to hear too much either too fast, but it’s different for them because the really bad stuff happened in a different country.

@kevbo I’ll look into some of your suggestion. Very interesting you studied it in a college course. I would never know because history was a subject I stayed away from as much as possible. My idea to teach hate around the world might be a bad one, I’m really not sure. I asked the question about it because I was unsure. My opinion about teaching negative history at older ages I do have strong opinions about, obviously, but I am open to hearing the arguments presented hear. I keep feeling like other jellies are not understanding that I am ok with the concepts at a young age, just not specific historical facts.

I also think history needs to be taught in the context of what happened in a a country over time, so I never would suggest to only teach about things like slavery in a hate history class, it also would need to be taught in a regular old American history class.

JLeslie's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me I understand your point. I do think what you mention is an important part of understanding why slavery happened. I use “hate” as a shorthand for cruel and unfair treatment of others. It isn’t 100% accurate.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Buttonstc What Jane Elliott did, in later years, became very controversial. She did it to make a point, and make a point she did, but the fact that it directly involved putting children that young under that much stress was pretty frowned upon. I’m not saying, one way or another, exactly how I feel about it – because I haven’t made up my mind.

That said, I agree with @Buttonstc that if children are young enough to ask questions about it, or to even obviously take note of any kind of hatred, I fully support teaching them about it ASAP. The reason I feel this way is because, by around 6th grade, the kids have already been introduced to so many hateful things (even if they can’t fully recognize it), that it needs to be countered much earlier if the kids are going to stand any kind of chance. Children who grow up in racist households, hear hate speech, derogatory slurs, etc., and who learn no opposing views are most likely going to repeat the cycle. It’s crucial, often times, to start young.

Not educating kids about some of the horrors of history won’t protect them from anything, ultimately, because they’re going to learn about the negativity in personal ways – sooner rather than later. I think that it’s probably better to give them histories of people who, despite anything else, overcame – because that’s the important part, and a lot of the kids (minorities especially) will have to rely on that at various points in their lives. Because unfortunately, the chapters on discrimination and oppression aren’t even done being written yet.

As an aside: By the time I was in 6th grade, racial tension was a reality in one of my schools. A white boy and a black boy got mad at each other, for a very kid-like reason, but the white boy ended up saying “nigger!” as an angry outburst to the black boy. This happened in the very crowded halls while students were making their way from one class to another. Everyone in the general vicinity of the argument froze, and a hush descended. About three seconds after that, the white boy got jumped, and no other kids did anything to stop it. Why? Because the general consensus was that he deserved it. This is just an example of why I think 6th grade is far too late.

JLeslie's avatar

@DrasticDreamer I remember in first grade someone in school telling me black people used to be slaves and I was shocked. I don’t remember if the teacher taught it or kids just came up with it. I’m pretty sure it was just some kids. It was a fleeting moment until years later when I learned more about it in school. I don’t remember learning about slavery and segregation in primary school, but possibly we did. I also don’t remember any racial negative instances in primary school. Nothing. Secondary school we were more aware I guess of race and ethnicity, but it still was never a big issue where I lived, or at least not in my home and my world as a kid.

I never heard the word nigger except when we read or discussed it in literature or discussing the topic of the word being used. I still never do, except for one person in my life who uses every horrible word ever created about every group. He is an extremely funny man, he isn’t what I define as racist, but he does have some prejudices. He is in a class by himself and would never use those words to or at someone. Not that I am defending his use of the words, I just mean he says them similar to how people swear at home and not in mixed company. I think nigger should never be used except in literature and discussions about the past.

I think you make a good point that things vary around the country. Racism, language, prejudice, and so my view on it is from my own experience.

I still think we need a lot of black people in the discussion to really know what has been hurtful or helpful.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@JLeslie I still think we need a lot of black people in the discussion to really know what has been hurtful or helpful.

I completely agree. That matters, a lot.

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