Viewpoint: School districts need to actively reject assault on teaching the truth of U.S. history

Originally published in The Island Now on July 09, 2021.

There is a reason why New York State mandates teaching about the Holocaust and why state legislators, led by state Sen. Anna Kaplan, have pushed for school districts to teach the Holocaust in more robust, purposeful ways rather than a casual mention. They point to the rise of antisemitism.

In fact, you only have to listen to the garbage coming out of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene who compared a public-health mask-wearing mandate to genocide, and those who knock on doors to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccination to brown shirts who beat and murdered Jews in the street, to have a glimpse of what ignorance breeds.

So it is really disturbing that the shite christo-fascists have now taken aim (again) at public education, specifically targeting “woke” teachers. The word “woke” is used as a slur (like “political correctness” or “liberal”), to refer to anyone who has made an effort to understand and empathize with others.

Laws are actually being proposed to ban the teaching of the made-up “critical race theory” – which is extended to teaching about slavery, Indian genocide, Jim Crow, KKK, lynching, but especially how systemic racism is responsible for disparities in today’s wealth, housing, education, jobs, voting rights and criminal justice – for example, how systemic racism could factor into a police officer suffocating a man to death in front of a crowd of people pleading for mercy without care or concern.

The aim behind the campaign to whitewash history and replace truth with propaganda is the same as the attack on science (evolution, climate change), public health (coronavirus, gun safety) and education: a backlash against the policies being advanced to promote more equity – now that the impact of inequities have been so starkly revealed in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd murder.

What have public health, climate action, and social equity have in common? They require a sense of community, common cause, public purpose. The “commons” – which in white christo fascist parlance is “socialism” “communism” “Marxism” and anathema to “America” (that is capitalism).

Just as the attack on mask-wearing, the basis for the attack on “critical race theory” is totally bogus: CRT is not actually part of the K-12 curriculum, but rather, is an issue taught in law schools to examine how systemic racism has become embedded in criminal justice.

But the term has become shorthand for anything that is critical of United States history and might burst any myth of “American Exceptionalism.” The fuse was lit by the self-examination after the publication of the New York Times’ “1619” project.

Public education has been a target of right-wing conservatives going back to Reagan, as much because of the fight to force prayer in school and public tax money for parochial schools as to weaken teacher unions, among the largest unions still in existence and typically supporting Democrats.

Their fear is that if children grow into adults who respect others and see the injustice of economic, political and social inequities, if they realize that the American Dream is rigged, they might actually embrace policies and politicians to correct it.

“Critical race theory, the 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,” Trump declared. “It will destroy our country” adding “teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.”

To counter such education, he formed a 1776 Commission for Patriotic Education so that “our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their souls.”

Already, there have been literal attacks on school board members and meetings, and right-wingers taking over seats on school boards.

States have passed bans on teaching critical race theory but what does that mean practically? You can’t teach about slavery in Colonial America, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Indian Wars, Sitting Bull?

“We told our members you can do what your professional obligation requires – teach honest, accurate United States history, some of it is uncomfortable, but helps kids become critical thinkers when they understand the facts and can draw their own conclusions,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said on MSNBC. “We will defend that, just like the Scopes Trial of old, when they tried to stop teaching Evolution. It’s very important to be able to teach accurate history.

“To survive in this world, you need to be able to think. You need to be able to hold different things in your heart, in your head at same time. If you don’t help kids develop those muscles, to see diversity as strength, it will hurt them.”

But Weingarten added, “Some teachers won’t have the stamina or courage to teach Civil War or January 6. People will be afraid to push kids to think.”

And lest you think this controversy is far away and not a risk to our schools, the rightwing have used textbooks to spread their political and social engineering.

“Texas has frequently faced scrutiny for its state curriculum standards (called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS),” Kate Slater writes in “Who Chooses the History Textbooks?” on the today.com site. “In 2014, NPR reported on some of the curriculum controversies, one of which included listing Moses as one of the original Founding Fathers.

But because Texas has one of the highest populations of public school students (approximately 5 million) it carries an undue influence on national textbook publishers and the content that they include — or do not include — in their textbooks. The narratives that they feature, which are then taught to millions of middle and high school students, have at times come under fire for being racist and xenophobic.”

For example, a McGraw-Hill textbook referred to enslaved people as “workers” and compared the Atlantic slave trade to other “patterns of immigration.” They have also sought to embed Intelligent Design alongside Darwin’s “theory” of Evolution, and have dismissed climate science.

The Great Neck School District, Nassau County and New York State school boards associations and superintendents associations should consider a policy to refuse to order any textbook which contain whitewashed or propagandized history, science, social studies, as edited to satisfy Texas.

Instead, when it comes to history or social science, our students would be better served with project-based curriculum that enable them to learn for themselves how to find and analyze original sources or different sources and voices. This also teaches important techniques to distinguish fact from fraud on the internet.