Power: The Changing Force on Written Histories

Over the course of our history, each culture has experienced a different version of history and has unique stories to tell. Americans typically tell one history, usually a unified version that depicts a grand narrative highlighting and glorifying certain events, while hiding and ignoring others. This style of storytelling is dangerous for our society because it causes many stories to never be told and many cultural histories to be hidden.

The big question is what determines whose histories and stories get told and how can we, as a society, become more aware of the histories we aren’t being shown by the media and our textbooks.

The most central idea regarding what histories are told is power. In our society, power is everything and those who have power can influence the way we perceive each other and our backgrounds. Our textbook “Intercultural Communications in Context” describes power as “dictating what is taught and what is silenced, what is available and what is erased” (Martin and Nakayama 128). This idea is key to understanding how influential those in power can be to our educational system and exposure to cultural histories. Not only can power cause you to learn specific facts or hear glorified stories of our supposed history, but it can also eliminate any contradictory stories experienced by other cultures.

The textbook controversy in Texas is a wonderful example of how power can manipulate the truth to fit into the idealized model of our history. Recently, the Texas school board has proposed many revisions to the history curriculum for their state. Many of the revisions would require textbooks to print inaccurate historical information and Texas history teachers to teach their students the flawed history. Michael Birnbaum of the Washington Post spoke about the effects of these changes saying “Because the Texas textbook market is so large, books assigned to the state’s 4.7 million students often rocket to the top of the market, decreasing costs for other school districts and leading them to buy the same materials” (Birnbaum). This issue is very important because the widespread effect of these changes has the potential to change the way our history is being perceived and how it will be taught to future generations.

The power dynamic present in the Texas School Board is significant to understanding the changes being made and why the issue is so important. The PBS documentary “Texas Textbook Controversy” discusses the political distribution on the board, which is made up of two thirds republican elected board members. The republican board members have been the primary contributors of revisions, such as suggesting that words be changed to create a more positive tone regarding certain wars or battles, or proposing that communism in American government was to blame for poor politics in the 1950’s.

The changes to basic American history being proposed by the Texas school board is a prime example of how individuals with power can use it to influence what stories are being heard and what context it is being received.

To summarize, the most important concept to understand is that everything we hear, whether it’s in the media or on the news is being influenced by something, usually power. Knowing that we must find a way to reach beyond what we are being shown and find the truth, the untold stories. I think that if we can become more aware of what is influencing the information we receive, we can all become more informed about other cultures and be better intercultural communicators. 

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