voice for democracy

Accurate portrayal of US history strengthens democracy – Las Vegas Sun

By Greg Wieman
Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Students are not harmed by exposure to the unvarnished history of our country. They benefit greatly from it, despite the overheated rhetoric coming from opponents of critical race theory (CRT).
Most concerns and accusations within the national conversation over CRT are unfounded. Racism and discrimination are part of a full and accurate discussion of United States history.
CRT focuses on the legacy of racism and discrimination throughout U.S. history and how it is institutionalized across society. Opponents contend that CRT portrays all white people as racist and harms white students, but this is based on political fear, not a rational concern.
CRT is rarely addressed in K-12 public school classrooms. Rather, students are provided with historical comparisons that demonstrate different levels of democracy and how far we have advanced the original ideals. At higher grade levels, discussions and topics become more mature, giving students the ability to analyze flaws and contradictions of our political and economic system. Contrasting and comparing political systems and societies leads to an informed citizenry.
White students are not taught to feel guilty or ashamed of their ancestors. They instead learn that the majority of Americans no longer find it acceptable to openly express racist views or discriminate against people of color. Nevada is wise not to limit classroom instruction regarding historical discrimination. It would create a solution to a problem that does not exist.
In contrast, modern-day Russia and China utilize biased curriculum and instructional materials to indoctrinate students about societal beliefs and thereby control the population. In the U.S., we should continue to move away from this method of political brain-washing. A free society grows stronger when frailties are exposed and corrected. Indoctrination is not knowledge.
The inescapable truth is that discrimination by race, ethnicity and gender are part of the fabric of American history. The pretense that we had or have an idyllic democratic system in our country minimizes the evolution of American society. We are on a continuing pursuit “to form a more perfect union.”
Accurate curriculum materials and forthright classroom discussions lead to the awareness of expanding social and political rights for all citizens. Avoiding controversial topics because of unfounded political concerns will not enhance democracy.
Notions of avoiding classroom discussion of civil rights are ludicrous. Take, for instance, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech was a turning point in American history. The eloquence of his speech, metaphors in the writing and civil rights analogies encourage cross-curricular lessons across grade levels. Perfect for those schools that are open on MLK day.
Racism, sexism and discrimination are a part of our history and cultural heritage. It would be remiss to minimize or ignore slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, labor abuse of workers and immigrants, racist acts throughout the 20th century, military segregation, internment camps and the Civil Rights movement. These are essential topics in U.S. history.
Students should learn that manifest destiny meant the expansion of the United States across the continent, which came at the expense of the systematic genocide of Native Americans and destruction of their culture. Women’s suffrage did not occur until almost 150 years after the Declaration of Independence. It took several more decades for women to obtain comparable civil rights to men. Enslaved black Africans were regarded as property, not people. Every American student should be exposed to these topics before leaving high school.
The flowing oration and writing of our Founding Fathers was somewhat hollow at the time. They did not have the foresight to consider that Native Americans, women or those of black African descent would be granted political rights. Yet, George Washington can be regarded as heroic for leading a successful break from England. Our founders can be celebrated for establishing a democracy and Constitution that allowed us to expand freedom and equality beyond white, male, property owners.
Some of our attempts to spread democracy or preserve freedom around the world were noble endeavors. The Vietnam War and World War II were fought for different reasons and had vastly different effects on society. Understanding the purpose behind our numerous conflicts helps develop comprehension of cause and effect relationships. These events and actions must be shared along with the philosophical foundation of our nation and the heroism on the battlefields that made our nation what it is today.
Misguided detractors of public education want to remove criticism of past events and control the message to advance their political ideologies. Politicians that normally promote limited government should not impose limitations on public school curriculum. Their meddling is unnecessary and intrusive. There is no need for justifications or apologies, just a factual depiction of our past.
Few teachers possess a political agenda for their classroom. They have a passion for education and aspire to share accurate, objective knowledge. Forcing teachers to compromise intellectual credibility because of exaggerated political sensitivity deprives students of essential learning.
Greg Wieman is a retired educator with a doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University. He can be contacted at [email protected]