Wednesday, July 28, 2021

“Who Gets To Decide What is History”

 Well first, American history is NOT CRT because CRT is not curriculum. I have heard several people, including Seattle School Board candidate Michelle Sarju, say that it is. Nope.

The relationship between the two - from my reading of numerous articles - is that CRT is ongoing higher-ed level research about the impacts and outcomes to Black Americans from how our history was shaped by those who had the power to shape it. 

I’m willing to hear disagreements but I think we should all agree that CRT as a theory is not being taught in schools. Some of the discoveries within the CRT research - that other research has also found - are surely in many high school history or civics classes. Things like segregated schools,redlining, etc. 

But are we at a place in time where a teacher can be going over the history/purpose of federal holidays, come to our newest one - Juneteenth - and then can’t give an explanation as to its origins? Ridiculous.

What this looks like is fear. What is there to be fearful of?

- A telling of American history that makes white people look like unfeeling, uncaring, and cruel people. You could tell the history without stating that but apparently, many white people think you can’t. 

- It’ll ruin Thanksgiving. Truly, that’s an argument. 

- Put it all in Ethnic Studies and leave American History alone. Again, another dumb argument.

- Some say changing the curriculum is just an excuse for scapegoating white people. I would then answer back that much of our history is incredibly painful but, on the whole, one group of people did all these things.

 I was reading an account about the history of lynching and when these lynchings were covered in newspapers, the story invariably said, “Carried out by persons unknown.” In that situation, you can look at the many photographs and see who is swinging and who is watching. That’s not scapegoating. 

But what many on the Right really fear is that somehow the telling of the entire truth will make students come to the conclusion that all white people were and are racists. What I think is missed is that CRT says the systems have been baked in to support white people over all others.

I already know good teachers have been facing down how to talk about our history long before CRT came up. We can talk about that in the next thread of this series.

- CRT is all a plot to sow divisiveness and hate to overturn society. Ladies and gentlemen, if there are any among us who know what that looks like, it is everyone who was part of the Trump administration or supported it. Perhaps Trump &Co were not trying to overturn society so much as solidify white control and the turning back of the clock. Those on the Right cannot possible think that what has happened over the last four+ years has done anything to unite this country. 

- I will observe that most kids learn to think/act in racist ways at home, not at school. 

- CRT challenges the foundations of our country. But our country is not static; that is one truism of the United States which makes us stand out from many other countries. Why wouldn’t our teaching of history - our history - be any different? Are the foundations of our country going to crumble because - gasp! - the kids learn that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, et al were human? Flawed humans like all of us? Too late! Hamilton already told us that. 

So it appears that CRT is the dog whistle but really, the fight is about teaching a full recounting of American History.

Point 1

The 1619 Project seems to be the catalyst for this “Stop! Don’t tell the kids!”movement. I’m referring to the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalistic effort, which has made curriculum available for both K-12 and higher education.

It has been said to be “ideology before historical accuracy.” That some historians - not many but some - disagree with Nikole Hannah-Jones’ premise that this country was founded on the use of slavery to expand wealth for white men. I’m not a historian so it would be hard for me to state an opinion. However, was the use of slavery used to spur the economic growth of this country? Yes. Would landowners have been able to make money and expand quickly without enslaved peoples? Nope. 

Interestingly, there was a book published in 2006, Slave Nation, that also posited this idea. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/slave-nation/

What is really important is this - Who gets to decide what is history? The following quotes come from an article in the Christian Science Monitor by Jonathan Zimmerman, a history of education professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

A key step toward finding middle ground will be if opponents can agree to “let kids in on the secret that we disagree,” and allow teachers to present both sides of the debate in class.

What a great idea because it allows students some degree of autonomy in their thinking and lets it be expanded/challenged. That’s how we create critical thinkers. 

The debate isn’t about whether there’s been racism; it’s about what racism has meant and what it’s done to America. Is it something that’s been progressively overcome as we move toward fulfilling our national ideals, or is it something that’s been a constant force in society, making society itself irredeemably racist?” says Professor Zimmerman, author of “Whose America?: Culture Wars in the Public Schools.” “What we need is for each side to have the courage to let that debate happen in our classrooms.”

As previously noted, at least 16 states have bills in the hopper to ban the use of CRT (even as it is not being used in K-12) as well as “divisive” topics. (I’ll get to all of that in the next part of this series.) 

Point 2

Senator Mitch McConnell says that he believes “bedrock principles that unite our nation” are being changed to promote “a radical ideology meant to divide us.”

American students deserve a rock-solid civics education, grounded in facts. Not divisive propaganda that tells them they’re little more than a product of their racial background. That’s the basis of new legislation I was proud to help introduce this week: Schools that choose to trade in fact-based curricula for activist propaganda like the 1619 Project forfeit their right to receive federal education grant funding for those teachings.” (Sen. McConnell, Remarks, 6/15/2021)

First, I’m think McConnell does not get out much or read newspapers or watch tv because news flash! We are not a united country and haven’t been for years. That he thinks current teaching of American history unites us makes him tone-deaf. 

Second, see that “product of their racial background.” A huge talking point from the Right including Seattle School Board candidate for D5, Dan Harder. It’s a (somewhat) clever way to try to say that teaching a full history of our country would just make students of color “lose hope” that the deck is stacked against them so why try?

Again, the blatant ignoring of the fact that people of color in this country very clearly know and have known there is a tall wall between them and equity. However, brick by brick, that wall is going to have to come down so that the goal of having “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is not harder for some Americans than others solely based on skin color.


Patrick said...

I just wanted to chime in my strong recommendation for Slave Nation. There's a great deal of background in it, but the main newly dug-up idea is that slavery was central to the United States becoming independent.

Prior to about 1770, the southern states' plantation owners made a great deal of money growing and selling cotton, mainly to Britain that had the mills to make it into cloth. The southern states were not very interested in independence, as it might limit their ability to sell their cotton; the urging for independence was mostly in New England.

In 1772, British courts decided Somerset's case (Somerset v Steuart). Somerset was a slave who worked as a personal servant to his owner, Steuart. Steuart brought Somerset with him to England, at which point Somerset escaped and claimed English common law did not allow for slavery and he was free the moment he set foot in England. The decision agreed, but only within the UK; slavery in the American and Caribbean colonies was not immediately affected by the Somerset decision. However, southern states plantation owners saw this correctly as the writing on the wall, and that slavery would be outlawed in British colonies as well within 50 years. Wanting to ensure slavery's continuation is what pushed the southern states from opposing independence to favoring it, which ultimately made the United States independent.

This line of cause and effect shocked a lot of people when Slave Nation came out, but it has stood up well to challenges since it was published in 2006.

Anonymous said...

British elites, who at the time owned vast properties in the British West Indies and benefited handsomely from slave labor, supported the South. That wealth have been passed down to the current crop of wealthy Brits today, including the present Queen and her brood. British commoners supported the North. England at the time had bigger fish to fry. Plus its colonialism with Egyptian and Indian cotton pretty much fixed the need to rely on the American South for supply.


Patrick said...

Reader, I'm not sure which "at the time" you're talking about. I was referring to the 1770s, pre-American independence, but you seem to be jumping forward to the American Civil War in the 1860s, by which time slavery was illegal in any British colony and Britain suppressed the trade in slaves from Africa to the new world.

Plantations with slaves were seen by the British to be a dirty, ungentlemanly way to make your money even when it was legal. You can see that in Somerset's Case, and you can see that attitude in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Because of that image, the Royals stayed away from investing in plantations. And then, as now, government policy was made by the Prime Minister in cabinet - Victoria in the 1860s no more decided whether Britain would support either side in the American civil war than Elizabeth II decided whether to send British troops to Afghanistan.