The winners tell the story, but when it comes to history, anyone can make themselves out to be the hero.
One of the inevitable challenges students from foreign nations face when going to school in the U.S. is switching from their own country’s history to American history in the classroom. Not only do they have to learn entirely new historical figures and events, but they often learn the exact same history from an entirely different viewpoint. Junior Gabriele Vella Bianchi, a Mason exchange student from Italy, said he had learned about World War II since the fifth grade, but upon coming to the U.S. found that America’s interpretation of what happened was drastically different.
“Americans focus a lot on Hitler, and we focused on Hitler, but we focused more on Mussolini; he was the center (of our unit),” Bianchi said. “In America, Italy is seen as having supported Hitler in the war, but we’re taught Mussolini supported him, and we were fighting against (Mussolini).”
Bianchi said that Italian history classes primarily teach about how Italy made its comeback after the war.
“World War II was a big turning point,” Bianchi said. “Because of what happened, we changed from a Monarchy to a Republic after the war, and we still celebrate the change every year. What happened to us is what we are taught.”
Sophomore Anna Komissarova moved to Mason from Germany, and also said the history surrounding that time period changed after the transition.
“America is very set in its facts, and that makes sense,” Komissarova said. “Germany realizes that what happened was horrific and accepts the blame. But they don’t do what Americans think, they don’t pretend that they weren’t wrong.”
Komissarova said that extensive changes have been made since the war to repair damage that Americans don’t know about.
“Germany is a Republic, but there are less freedoms than in America, which people don’t realize,” Komissarova said. “In Germany, you are not allowed to hang your German flag outside your house; you can’t express excessive pride because that reinforces “Germany is better,” which is what happened in that time period. If you say you’re a member of the Nazi party, you’ll be arrested immediately, whereas the KKK can kind of do as they wish in the U.S. A lot of monuments have been dedicated to victims of the genocide, as well, and that’s also different because you don’t walk around and see a lot of monuments for Native Americans that were slaughtered here.”
Senior Dante Andres Villarreal Monrique came to Mason last year from Mexico, and said that, through learning America’s history, he found the U.S. has a lot of pride in events the rest of the world doesn’t care about.
“Remember the Alamo is a big deal,” Monrique said. “And the (dispute) over the border and the war to get more land at that time is made to be big, but we had not really talked about it in Mexico. We think it was a bit of an unfair deal and America got the better end, but that’s it. When you see how proud America is about it, it’s confusing.”
Daron Little, an AP U.S. History teacher, said he has seen the curriculum change to get rid of some of the more biased facts and mentalities.
“We used to have a much stronger study of the battles of different wars,” Little said. “A major reason why most of that was gotten rid of was to prevent teaching students (that) America was the hero of this war and rescued one country from annihilation.”
Monrique agreed that inflating national pride was a large part of different nations’ agendas when organizing their curriculums.
“A lot of what we learn is about the fight to gain Mexican independence from Spain,” Monrique said. “We kind of touch that over and over again every year, and so I was very uninformed about any history in America, (which is odd because) the country is directly north of ours.”
Little also said that this tainting of history is inevitable for every nation.
“It isn’t changing facts, it’s just having separate points of emphasis in the curriculum,” Little said. “I don’t think a lot of countries are going to want to feed their student population information that’s going to make them feel as if their country has acted poorly, or lack confidence or faith in what their leaders have done. That isn’t just the United States, it’s everywhere.”