Whole History or History with Holes

As a teacher concerned with streams of thought, particularly Freethought, I’m continually asking myself who is being left out in the stories we tell, whose voices are not being heard.  Though I’m no historian, I’m aware that pulling one thread of the historical narratives is only one thread.  To teach history accurately is to teach history honesty.

Listening to Ezra Klein’s interview with Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who both teach at Howard University, these images and ideas came to mind:

♦History is like a knot, or better, a twisted thread made of many multi-colored strands

♦People have a reaction when one strand is touched, pulled or emphasized (think: BLM, Women, other sexualities, etc)

(American history is usually taught as one thick white thread or rope.  Some get agitated when another color is held up.  Btw, this is not simply about race)

♦If we teach healthy skepticism, we will hear from people and voices who are not the “authorities” with their “official reports”

♦History has to be seen through more than a Lens of Power

♦History, like biography, needs to show both the good and the bad of individuals and institutions

♦There is anger and pushback when the White (or male, or Christian) thread is not given the most privileged place in the narrative

♦We are not responsible for what our ancestors did, but we are responsible for telling the whole story truthfully, and for what we do with that now

We either do our best at teaching Whole History (accurate, truthful, balanced) or we end up teaching History with Holes (with important threads missing)

When I teach, I always make it clear I am not a historian; I am choosing to highlight several threads bound together.  The twisted cord is long and open for exploration … many strands, many cords!

(further thought for consideration:  people, and communities, are woven threads too.  Are we hearing, and telling, the whole story?)

Categories: HistoryTags: , , ,


  1. & free in The Ezra Klein Show podcast. Thanks so much for the tip!!

  2. Thank you Chris, for your thought provoking Friendly Freethinker site!! I didn’t know where to start with my thoughts so I thought I would just start here 🙂

    First, I want to say that my thoughts are handicapped by language….. We humans all have language, or more than one, that form our ability to share “thoughts” with one another. But, do words accurately convey the thoughts correctly? Does the receiver or reader correctly receive what the writer intended? I often think this is a root source of “misunderstanding” or “division” in our human experience.

    Because of this idea, I have tried, with difficulty to remove some commonly used words in my science discipline from my vocabulary. Kind’a provocative, but I think my thoughts and ideas are better conveyed that way. It’s a fun experiment 🙂

    • Good to hear from you, Erik! Your open thinking is exactly what I like to hear on the site. The questions you raise identify some key issues with knowledge, communication, and language itself. How to get accurate knowledge–let alone “meaning,” or “truth”– from one mind to another? I’d be interested in what some of those words you removed have been. Thanks for engaging!

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