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The Education Kids Deserve Must Include the Truth

Oh, what we’ve been taught, and continue to teach, in our Euro-centric public education curriculum.

Columbus discovered the new world. Okay, he deserves props for being an early European arriver. But, the “new world” had already been discovered, inhabited, revered as sacred for thousands of years by the indigenous people who observed, and may have reasonably feared, his landing.

The traditional first Thanksgiving story. If any part of this mythology is correct, it suggests a tremendous gesture of empathy and acceptance toward a group of people that could easily have been perceived as invaders. It also represents the sad irony of how this act would not be reciprocated through our history.

How the West was won. The quest to expand and to “civilize” the country, led to conflicts with indigenous tribes. These so called “savages” were centuries long holders of the land that was being taken from them by force, with blood shed, loss and brutality at the expense of a diminished cultural identity.

A benign acknowledgement that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners. Yes, it was a “thing” in those days, the late 1700’s. Rich land owners would likely be slave owners. What we fail to recognize is that these “slaves”, these people, these human beings, were ripped from their homes, separated from their families, shackled and sold into a life-long obligation of servitude, subservience and abuse. They were denied their essence as a people. We forget to address that part.

Celebrate the Alamo! Do we teach the cultural and political tensions of our ongoing relationship with our southern border country in a historic and accurate way? Does the American desire for physical control of disputed real estate, and the political and monetary resources at stake, ever get discussed? Shouldn’t it?

U.S. voting rights. This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of American women gaining the right to vote. Good for us. Did that end voter suppression in our country? Doesn’t that warrant discussion?

The American civil rights movement. Do we include in our presentation that Bayard Rustin, the Black man who organized the 1963 March on Washington but was largely shunned in the civil rights movement because he was gay? Why not? That’s a part of the truth.

The black entertainer was invited to entertain the predominately well-healed white audience, but was not allowed to, even accidentally, interact with them. Instead, he was required to enter and exit the building through the delivery door. Do we talk about that?

Too often, the telling of our national history, and the experience of our country’s people, is the vanilla version. A version that stops short of offering the full damning account. We are often critical and more analytical of the actions of other nations. But, when it comes to our own behaviors we prefer the view through rose colored glasses.

A half truth is not the truth.

Kids deserve to understand the truth from their educational experience.

And, here’s the saddest part of that truth. Many of the examples cited above, along with a long list of others, are rooted in racism.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this spring has stoked the simmering embers of the huge issues of inequity in our country. Much of this inequity is due to racism - racist attitudes, practices, policies, assumptions, behaviors. People across the globe have taken to the streets in what CNN describes as “a racial reckoning that shows no signs of slowing down.” A reckoning that calls out racist institutions and individuals, and demands change. In the midst of this has come the realization that abhorring racism and responding with “not racist” rhetoric and actions is not enough. An anti-racist agenda is what is required.

Ibram X. Kendi has authored several books on the topic of racism in America, among them is How to Be An Antiracist. In it he offers an approach to address "the basic struggle we're all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human.” He argues that the opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” Responding to a racist event with “I’m not racist” is actually a statement of denial. While agreement may be present that the circumstance is deplorable and should not be repeated or allowed, “I’m not racist” suggests that the solution to the problem rests somewhere else. "I don’t bear personal responsibility if I’m not racist. Those racist’s had better get their act together.”

Denial, or passing responsibility, will not solve the problem. Being anti-racist might. It involves taking responsibility for what we see going on around us. It involves taking a deep personal inventory of our history and our resulting beliefs, all a product of how we were taught; either in school or by our cultural affiliations. Most important, being anti-racist demands action. Affirmative, focused and deliberate action.

This brings me back to the premise of this article. We must teach the truth. We have an obligation to take affirmative, focused and deliberate action to make certain that what we present to the students in our classrooms is factual. That it’s complete. That it’s balanced. That it is the truth, no matter how ugly or uncomfortable it might be.

The good news is that educators across the country are reflecting on what their students are coming away with by the instruction of half truths or biased perspectives. There are several encouraging examples of this. The third annual Teaching Black History Conference, sponsored by the University of Missouri, drew about 1,000 participants (700 more than last year) to address these issues. A global studies teacher at a high school in New York City, said teachers re-examined those topics at the recent convention of the American Federation of Teachers, a major teachers union. "There are educators who in the spring started to think about anti-racist instruction and conversations about how to uproot acts of supremacy that students are experiencing.” Anton Schulzki, a high school teacher in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said the state recently held a virtual conference at which dozens of social studies teachers discussed changing their approaches to their curricula to move beyond their own biases. "Up front was the issue of race and how we need to change our approach," he said. Schulzki said the conversation specifically covered how Native American history, LGBTQ history and the histories of other minorities groups are taught.


Keep up this important, this critical, work moving forward. Our national curriculum, and local curricula as well, must reflect an honest look at our past. Only then can we anticipate an informed glance forward that is trustworthy with any hope of integrity.

This is what we all deserve.

This is The Education Kids Deserve.

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