Sunday, September 12, 2021

Teaching American History

 I wanted to revisit this subject after this truly wonderful speech at a Georgia school board meeting by parent, Melanie Moore. (Partial and all bold mine)

" Our country cannot begin to heal until we deal with the pain, trauma and hurt about our past."

"We can help our children connect the dots from the awful events of the past to the current issues that face our country so that real change can happen."

"As members of the white community, we have got to stop pushing the agenda that diversity and truth in education is all about indoctrination, shaming or placing guilt at the feet of white people."

"People are simply asking for their stories to be heard and told as ours have been for generations. We have got to be honest with ourselves in admitting that systemic racism is real and that this country was created and prospered under the ideals of white supremacy and that we are responsible for righting the wrongs of our forefathers." 

"We did not create this mess but we are the ones who have to clean it up starting with honest, equitable education practices now, that will teach our children the hard truths about our past so they can create a better future."

"We need to know better and we need to do better."

One comment struck me:

In the last 4yrs, it's been eye-opening how many Americans enjoy bashing others & inflicting cruelty. It's time to put *all* of our historical cards on the table.

To summarize:

- We need to teach about ALL of American History because it ALL shaped the country we are today. 

- We can teach ALL American History WITHOUT shaming white people. We can point out the many good things that we see in the growth of America throughout its history but include all the people who helped that growth and who benefited most. That's not judgment; that's being factual.

There are many states pushing to (literally) whitewash history. Texas is key among them. (Fun fact from The NY Times: Latinos are on the cusp of eclipsing Anglos as Texas’ largest ethnic group, and almost half of the state’s children are Hispanic.)

From the New York Times' story about what is happening in Texas:

“The idea that history is a project that’s decided in the political arena is a recipe for disaster,” said Raul Ramos, a historian at the University of Houston who specializes in the American West.

And here's what one legislator had to say:

“We want to do our part to preserve the system and yes to talk about our history, warts and all,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, on the Senate floor Friday. “But present it truly and accurately, especially those founding principles, which have made Americans so special.”

“To suggest that America is so racist at its core and it’s so irredeemable and they can never overcome biases and treat each other fairly — that's a real problem,” Hughes said of the project. 
 
I find Senator Hughes amusing because if he was so worried about accurate history, why did he wait until now? I don't want Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, or others made out to be demons. We should teach what they were - men who were flawed human beings on one hand, but also men who stood up against an empire to find freedom. 

That he doesn't think that America has always been racist is troubling; apparently he went to some place of higher ed where he was lied to. And I know of no one who suggests that this country is not one worth saving and making better. But it has to be better for everybody. 

Again from the article:
The law that already passed lists documents, figures and events that must be included in the social studies curriculum. But SB 3, filed by state Sen. Bryan Hughes on Friday, strips out most mentions of women and people of color in that section — more than two dozen requirements that include Native American history, work by civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, historical documents related to the Chicano movement and women’s suffrage, and writings by Martin Luther King Jr., Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

It also removes the requirement to teach “the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

 From The Texas Tribune

Third grade teacher Lakeisha Patterson, who fielded questions from her students this past year about the Black Lives Matter movement, said she’s worried that constrained conversations about difficult real-life issues will ultimately disadvantage students.

“If we’re not allowing teachers the opportunity to have these honest and intellectually appropriate conversations with their feelings about the past, then we’re basically silencing those communities,” Patterson said. “We’re saying, ‘not only are we ashamed of your heritage and your culture, but we’re not even at liberty to discuss it.’ And it just goes back to whitewashing history.”

In recent years, history teachers said they have worked to diversify history curriculum, providing additional context and perspectives. In recent years, the State Board of Education added a Mexican-American history course and an African American history course that’s available to all high school students.

“We have seen more student involvement because they can now see their own voices, their own people, their own culture being in history,” Carmona said. “They never saw themselves, so they weren’t engaged.”

Educators also worry Texas students will be at a disadvantage when taking Advanced Placement or dual enrollment classes in high school if they don’t receive thorough lessons about how race and gender have shaped American society.

Mallory Lineberger, a former history teacher who now serves as a policy fellow for the advocacy group The Education Trust in Texas, says AP history students are often scored on how well they can connect historical events and modern issues.

“If we can’t talk about contemporary issues or current events, how are they supposed to be able to have a thorough and critical analysis of how a topic has changed over time?” she said.

More than 220 Texas historians and teachers across the state have signed a separate letter opposing the bill and sharing similar concerns. 

 What would get cut in this new Texas law? From The NY Times:

  • would limit teacher-led discussions of current events 
  • removes from the curriculum – Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, the writings of George Washington, and the history of Native Americans.
  • prohibit course credit for political activism or lobbying, which could include students who volunteer for civil rights groups
  • ban teaching of The 1619 Project, an initiative by The New York Times that says it aims to reframe U.S. history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative.
  • limit how teachers in Texas classrooms can discuss the ways in which racism influenced the legal system in the state, long a segregationist bastion, and the rest of the country
The Texas 1836 Project would ensure:
  •  “patriotic education” is provided to the public at state parks, monuments and museums.
  •  It would also create a pamphlet distributed to anyone getting a Texas driver’s license extolling facets of state history that “promote liberty and freedom for businesses and families.”
  •  requiring the project to also raise awareness of the state’s Christian heritage and its traditions of owning guns, while also acknowledging the Texas origins of the annual Juneteenth holiday that commemorates the emancipation of slaves. 
  • Democrats were also allowed to amend the bill, and they added requirements to include the contributions to the state by people of Hispanic ancestry and the roles that Texans have played in bolstering voting rights since the 1960s. 
And of course the elephant in the room is - what can teachers teach? Teachers can teach there is a new federal law called Juneteenth and it's about black history in Texas and that's where the teaching has to stop? No discussion, no context, no connecting the dots? 

Are some kids going to be instructed by their parents to audiotape every history or civics class so parents can play "gotcha ya?" 

What's a teacher to do? In the end, I guess, just to be safe, read a script.

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