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Framing History

Feb 26, 2008
"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." --Abraham H. Maslow

Have you ever stopped to think about your high school history books and whose perspective the history was presented? There is no omnipotent, impartial scribe to record every thing that ever happened from every perspective, obviously, but the only view of history schools seem to teach is the world from the perspective of the powerful elite. We learned Columbus 'discovered' the new world. We learned Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

This is clearly an overly simplified description of a narrow overview, but I use these examples just to make a point. If we're viewing history from the perspective of those in power, we're not really viewing history, are we.

Educational institutions use frames whether they describe them as such or not. The frame public schools work within has mostly to do with what the powers that be will allow as history. Text books are consistently banned for information that may seem to 'radical' which, in essence, is what all of history is. Helen Keller, for example, wasn't just a deaf/blind/mute woman, but a great humanitarian who spoke on behalf of change in a period of nationalism and capitalist control. The fact that many of the early presidents were slave owners is consistently glossed over because 'that's how it was at the time'. History is revised in a very Orwellian way when school boards choose what to present and what not to.

I came across "The People's History of the United States". It's a book that has been around for almost thirty years and continues to be updated as history continues to be move forward.

The way this book reframes history is an excellent example of how the idea of reframing works. It's not completely negating that Columbus "discovered" America, but it's saying, well, there were people here first and technically, Columbus wasn't a hero because he was responsible for bring disease to and slaughtering the native population. And even if you don't share this perspective, it's a whole new take on the country through the eyes of the disenfranchised.

So Columbus' discovery, through the eyes of the natives was: genocide and blankets with small pox.

Or how about the pilgrims in their cute hats? They were supposed to be fleeing religious persecution as they explored the New World, but maybe the natives didn't see it this way. . .more of a violent colonization.

There's a fascinating reframe at the end of the most recent edition regarding the "War on Terror". Instead of accepting the perspective, the frame that Arab terrorists attacked us on 9/11 because they hate our freedom, think about this: they were fed up with our foreign policy, our "stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia... sanctions against Iraq which... had resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children; [and] the continued U.S. support of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land."

But wait. . .That's not what the TV or newspapers tell us. Why? Because it doesn't fit with what they want to do or how they want us to be passive in their doing it.

Frames are complicated, just as reality is complicated, just as life is complicated, but if we can see the frames for what they are, then we can control them.
About the Author
Kenrick Cleveland teaches techniques to earn the business of wealth prospects using persuasion. He runs public and private seminars and offers home study courses and coaching programs in persuasion techniques.
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