The truth is under attack in this country. This has been so in the battlefields of social media for years, but now the war has shifted into our most fundamental and sacred dispensaries of knowledge and discovery, our public schools. Public education has been under attack from far-right legislatures for decades now. At first, this attack was hidden behind the innocent sounding guise that no child would be “left behind.” It’s taken time and the historically bizarre and dangerous presidency of Donald Trump to strip away any vestiges of those good intentions. When Trump came touting that he would “make America great again,” it was clear to many at the time, but now it should be painfully obvious to all, that what he meant was, let’s go back in time to when we bought and sold the myth that America was the perfect representation of our own creed–‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal.” When people of a certain age were in school, most learned a whitewashed version of the American story. Many of those people are now running the country and we can plainly see what their real agenda is. The right-wing extremists aren’t even trying to mask it anymore (Covid pun intended). They are coming after the truth. They are now actively attempting, state by state, to cover up the more unpleasant parts of the American story, claiming that teaching these things causes kids to hate America. They claim that teaching about the shortcomings of America is “revisionist history” when, the opposite is actually true. Leaving out or sugar coating over the darker aspects of our history is the very definition of revisionist history and, frankly, shamefully dishonest. What we are seeing now is an aggressive effort by legislatures in battleground states to eliminate the teachings and accomplishments of important civil rights leaders who worked tirelessly for the marginalized of society. If these self-proclaimed “patriot” lawmakers are successful, they could effectively erase the wonderful heroes and role models from female students and students of color from the history curriculum.
The Republican-led state senate of Texas made recent headlines by passing legislation that, according to the Bloomberg Law report from the Texas statehouse, would “end requirements that public schools include writings on women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement in social studies classes. Among the figures whose works would be dropped: Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr., whose ‘I have a Dream’ speech and ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ would no longer make the curriculum cut.”
Take a moment and re-read that quote from Bloomberg Law and try to imagine telling the story of American History without including such influential historical giants. Talk about re-writing history!
There is only one explanation for why these lawmakers want to do this; they are scared to death that students might become critical thinkers when it comes to their nation and its government. They seem to want their women back in the kitchen and minorities to be kept ignorant of the heroes that gave up so much in their tireless efforts to get America to finally live up to her lofty ideals. In short, they have noticed an increasingly culturally sensitive America full of empowered, engaged, and politically active young minorities and women and it scares them to death because it threatens the very white privilege which they still so steadfastly deny exists. To my way of thinking, this is criminally negligent behavior from elected officials.
Texas and Florida seem to be leading the charge on the front lines of this battle. Florida governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, recently got legislation passed in his state which will allow colleges to survey students and staff about their political beliefs. According to a report in The Hill, this legislation will “require public universities to survey students and staff annually about their beliefs to assess ‘viewpoint diversity’ on campuses. The bill does not specifically say what will be done with survey results, but DeSantis suggested budget cuts could be imminent if universities and colleges are found to be indoctrinating students.” This is really scary stuff. What could be less American than that?
If this war hasn’t reached your state yet, it will—particularly if you live in a Red State. It’s happening in a big way in my state of Indiana, as I have written about in other recent articles. It’s getting to the point where I wouldn’t be shocked at all to have it mandated to me to send permission slips home warning parents that I might be teaching about historical events wherein white people did some things that weren’t very nice and that if they don’t want their children to hear about white people doing not very nice things then they will be provided an alternate assignment.
The fact is that a lot of white people did do some “not so nice things” and a lot of other white people did some really cool things. The same can be said of women and all races, creeds, and sexual identities past, present, and on into perpetuity. It’s my job as a history teacher to help my students sort through it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—so that they have all the perspectives on history that they need to go forth and make this country a better place for all her citizens.
If we allow these far-right extremist lawmakers to dominate the narrative, I may not be able to do my job anymore.