In the United States, every child learns Christopher Columbus discovered America. When I attended school, the books talked about the Native Americans that were already here, but it was presented in such a way that we totally accepted the “reasonableness” of taking over the land. It was not until later, outside of school instruction, that I learned about Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci's historical omission is rather puzzling considering the continent is named after him. It was also not until later that I understood how the Native Americans suffered as a result of Columbus’ “discovery.” The Columbus story told in schools is somewhat a useful fairytale.
Every child is also taught about George Washington. When I went to school, the schoolbooks wrote beautiful things about him. I never read a bad word about him in any school book. There was a reverence quality to the descriptions of the “Founding Fathers,” especially Washington. But I also remember my Social Studies teacher mentioning Washington was the “father of America for more reasons than one.” She explained he was full-on adulterer who slept with any woman available, and even some that weren’t. I had never read that in a school textbook!
The first time I heard about Islam was my sixth grade Social Studies class. The subject was not actually Islam but cultures around the world. The most I remember is what we learned about the Middle East - that the women could only wear black, were forced to wear a scarf on their head as a form of oppression, were the property of men (first their fathers and then their husbands), and had to walk two steps behind men with their head down. That is what the book said. I remember asking Mrs. Carroll why women had to walk two steps behind men and she replied, “It is required by their religion to remind women of their low status.”