As we were watching an episode of We Shall Remain, the PBS series about Native Americans, Zach said, “I just can’t see anything else where the Americans are the bad guys.”
Ezra replied, “Yeah, it’s freakin’ me out.”
It’s not that we hadn’t studied awful aspects of American history before. We studied the role of slavery at Jamestown and other early colonies. When we studied the American Revolution, we had to reconcile our love of George Washington with his horrific treatment of his slaves and his decision to support slavery at the Constitutional Convention.
But our study of Westward expansion, and it’s devastating effect on Native Americans, came right after our trip to Ghana and our visit to the slave castles there. It was a lot for two very patriotic young boys to reconcile with their vision of America.
The temptation to hide from history is strong in all of us. But as I tried to explain to the boys, there is no way around it but through it. Learning about and living in the truth. Working for justice. These are the ways forward.
When the kids in our Westward Expansion class learned about Andrew Jackson and his treatment of Native Americans, they all asked, “Why is this guy on the $20 bill?”
It was a good question, and it kicked off weeks of research and planning. And it culminated in a White House petition to have Andrew Jackson removed from the $20 bill. They need 100,000 signatures by June 15 to ensure a response from the President. The petition has been up for almost a week, and they only have 370 signatures, so it’s looking unlikely. But as I told the kids, sometimes you take on a losing fight because it’s a righteous fight.
If my children are going to avoid a type of liberal despair and cynicism that often follows a study of history, if they are going to avoid a type of conservative defensiveness of the status quo that can follow a study of history, then a vigorous participation in democracy needs to be part of the answer.
I hope you’ll watch their video, sign their petition, and let them know that we don’t need to hide from history. We can learn about it, learn from it, and change it’s course. (If you want to skip the video and head straight for the petition, click here.)