Tom Neumark makes an important distinction in his Nov. 1 commentary (A history curriculum worth considering). Wading past obtuse readings of American history and German philosophy, we get to “the primary purpose of public schools.” It’s not “to make students ‘college and career ready,’” but to develop “students with the character and knowledge to self-govern as free citizens in a democracy.” Curriculum is always about what we want for our kids. They can become employees; they are growing human beings first.

But when thinking about non-white peoples, teachers face a history that has been brutal as often as inspiring — a history alive in the present. Neumark’s column does something sadly commonplace these days: he makes it disappear.

He finds something “concerning” in FCPS plans to introduce a Black and African-American Studies elective in high school (mis-identified in the column). He also needs to change the discussion from the history-based concerns of African Americans, to something about the Founding Fathers. (No women, Blacks, Indians or poor people need apply). Wonderful, he says of the new course, “but is it unreasonable to expect that our core curriculum would also cover minorities’ history well?”

Great colorblind thought. Some of us are not colorblind, and some of us cannot afford to be. Yes, it is unreasonable, a peculiar kind of innocence (privilege?) to expect it. Academics might call it “ahistorical” — but then we don’t have to think about lynching, legal redlinining, Jim Crow — or countless daily indignities that continue to this day.

The same bigotry that is missing, underplayed or misrepresented in most U.S. history textbooks. (Take a look at the deeply-researched Lies My Teacher Told Me. It won the American Book Award in 1996; subsequent editions haven’t needed much revision.) The same dogwhistle that has been flogged into a culture-war campaign against “critical race theory.”

No surprise, then, that Neumark’s curriculum argument savages the “falsehoods” and “distorted worldview” of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which “encourage students to become activists.” How horrible. He fantasizes that the question, What ideas, words and deeds… formed the world into which students were born? will be answered instead starting with study of ... the U.S. citizenship test.

I was born into a world shaped by World War II and the Holocaust. All of us live in a world shaped by the murder of George Floyd. That world has always been with us, but used to be easier to keep out of (some people’s) view.

At heart, some citizens do not believe we can learn from our mistakes. They minimize them instead.

They, like Neumark, bewail “trends in education that exaggerate America’s failings and gloss over its virtues.” They do not need a course in white history, because we all have had that curriculum forever. It is colorblind and history-blind. Except for a nostalgic, patriarchal pseudo-patriotism — one that knows exactly how to make America great again.

David Wolinsky

Frederick

(16) comments

artandarchitecture

"I was born into a world shaped by World War II and the Holocaust."

For me, I was born into a world shaped by Communism & the Holodomor, (which preceded the Holocaust.)

TrekMan

I read this three times and it still makes no sense to me - it's all over the place. I can't for the life of me figure what these folks major problem is. African American history (good and bad) was taught while I was in school in the 70's. My son was taught the same in school as he graduated in 2019. We live in an integrated neighborhood where we have different races, religions, political beliefs, you name it and we all live in peace and harmony. We watch out for each other, etc. Some people just want to push everything to the extreme which in turn turns most off of the subject. It's unfortunate.

DickD

Thinking back to my own education, we knew about slavery, John Brown and what happened to many Blacks as slaves. But very little of that was actually learned in public school. The first time I went South as a grown up, I saw separate drinking fountains for Blacks and asked myself, why? I know the answer now and shortly after thinking about it. What still amazes me is that Southerners were so racist they would not drink from the same fountain, even though the water shot up in the air and no one actually touched the drinking fountain. There were racists in the North too, but many in the North did what they could to help Blacks to escape to Canada. We had homes in my home town that hid them on their way to Canada and we all knew what homes hid them. Also, there were caves and locations, some with names that cannot be repeated today; not that they meant disrespect at the time, that was just the language then.

When I was very young, we went to Florida and were staying in some cabins. The owner of the cabins and gas station, at the location, had Black ladies do all of the laundry in a building behind the cabins. I would go out and play there and talk to them, we got along just fine. Then one day someone used the N word, back in the cabins - a white person for sure. I didn't know the meaning and asked, no one would tell me. So, I asked my friends in the laundry, because I was sure they would tell me. Well, it was the wrong thing to ask because after that I was banished from the laundry room and lost some good friends.

Then there was the time in the Marine Corp. In the Marine Corp there is no such thing as discrimination, all are treated the same, good and bad. There simply is no difference. One for all and all for one! One day after boot camp, I asked a fellow Black Marine to go into town with me. He said no, I can't. I persisted, why not. He said it was because it was not allowed. I couldn't believe it, but it was true.

phydeaux994

That is why in the Cities and suburb’s which are very diverse with people of all races as your neighbors, you soon find out that they’re all just people. They have the same values, provide for your family, go to church on Sunday, get involved in the Community. You don’t use race to judge, 99% of the people are just like you. And the jerks come in all races. But out in rural areas people isolate themselves by race, you never come into contact with people different from you. And from generation to generation the fear of other races is passed along. These ridiculous stories that Mr. Reid and a & a and others here repeat over and over that they have been taught to be true. They aren’t. Yes, you can cherry pick stories of heinous crimes committed by Blacks and illegal aliens and Muslims and ignore those committed by Whites which are more numerous. But the only way to make America whole again and be like our Founding Fathers intended is to admit every citizen into the Rights and Opportunities the White majority have.

artandarchitecture

(??) Dick, it sounds like you had no parents or guidance whatsoever. I asked "my friends" (i.e. cabin *employees* who worked in laundry). As a very young kid you were never warned it's inappropriate to 'make friends' with adults, or that adults deserve your respect & are not on the same low level as children? Children who 'befriend' adults drastically increase their likelihood of encountering a pedophile.

"In the Marine Corp there is no such thing as discrimination, all are treated the same, good and bad."

Are you referring to when it was "officially" desegregated in '42? Forced, nonstop, multi-cultural *friction* within the Marines continues to this day: NEW YORK TIMES: "The Marines Reluctantly Let a Sikh Officer Wear a Turban. He Says It's Not Enough."

Hayduke2

Well written, concise and thoughtful letter.

Awteam2021

Maybe a history of the human race, collectively.

Boyce Rensberger

A very good book on just that is "Sapiens: A History of the Humankind" by Yuval Noah Hariri, a historian.

sevenstones1000

While I share the writer’s general viewpoint, I would urge us all to also acknowledge that “lynching, legal redlinining, Jim Crow” is a far cry from “daily indignities” in 2021. (Whether these indignities are “countless” is another discussion that could be had.)

Certainly this nation chose the stain of Black slavery at its founding. It was not an accident. It was discussed by every Founding Father and was deliberately included.

However, that is not the end of the story. This nation also fought a war to end slavery then spent another 100+ years struggling with the aftermath. Things in 2021 are not the same as they were in 1821 or 1921 or even 1971. That, too, must be acknowledged.

Study the past, certainly. Honor and learn from the past, definitely. But don’t live in it.

History is just a useless wallow in past grievance unless it points the way to “what do we do now? What are our current problems and how do we solve them today? How do we address the pathologies that exist within communities, today - not as they were 200 years ago?”

Good luck with that.

Boyce Rensberger

Well put. We need to teach *all* of our history, at least starting in 1619. Of course there is the longer view of North American history that involves the people who already lived here when the Europeans arrived. Their lives matter, too.

artandarchitecture

"North American history that involves the people who already lived here when the Europeans arrived."

Previously:

Stone-age Europeans 'were the first to set foot on North America' Matthew Day 2/28/12

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9110838/Stone-age-Europeans-were-the-first-to-set-foot-on-North-America.html

The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets

He’s the most important human skeleton ever found in North America—and here, for the first time, is his story - Doug Preston/Smithsonian Magazine, Sept 2014

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/kennewick-man-finally-freed-share-his-secrets-180952462/

[Also watch THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRST AMERICANS - DISCOVERY CHANNEL, Oct 2000]

And while we're at it, let's debunk the Out-of-Africa Theory:

Europe was the Birthplace of Mankind, not Africa, scientists find - Sarah Knapton 5/22/17

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/05/22/europe-birthplace-mankind-not-africa-scientists-find/#comments

You're welcome, Boyce.

Boyce Rensberger

This is a good illustration of why it's crazy to let any old person create a curriculum or even a syllabus. The alleged debunking of out-of-Africa cited above is balderdash and uniformly seen as such by trained paleoanthropologists. (This is a field I covered closely as a science journalist.) A history curriculum should be devised by actual historians who know their stuff, not by some parent who doesn't or even by a school board.

Long ago the Indiana state legislature considered a bill that would make pi equal to 3 and not to that wacky number of 3.14159etc. Round it off to something easy to deal with, the elected legislators said. Fortunately the position of an actual mathematical prevailed.

public-redux

Plus, 3 is the biblical value of pi so those Indiana legislators were onto something. Not geometry, of course. But something.

phydeaux994

I would disagree that things in 2021 aren’t the same as they were in 1971. Maybe not quite but they are dang close. Until there is an honest effort to allow the Black race in America to assimilate into “White” Society and get rid of the embarrassment of America’s Inner Cities we will remain the broken Country we are today. It wouldn’t be easy and it will take generations to happen and cost billions but it has to be done. To eliminate the education “gap” in the Black and other minority Communities would mean those kids would need to be included in the proper educational and social experiences that White kids are brought up in from infancy. A child’s future can be formed by the time they are 5 or 6 years old. If the educational “gap” is not closed in early childhood it will remain forever. Had Reconstruction been allowed to continue right after the Civil War the Black race would be in the mainstream today just like all the Irish and Italians and Germans and Scandinavians who were shunned when they first immigrated here. But the descendants of the same people who didn’t allow it to happen then are those that aren’t allowing it to happen now.

Boyce Rensberger

One much needed step toward exactly what you say about "minority" kids is the provision in Biden's social infrastructure plan for "free," i.e., public pre-kindergarten. In other words, poor families would not need to worry about the cost of getting their kids on the road to good lives sooner. That is one thing that solid research has shown makes a big difference in the course of kids' lives.

I wrote a piece about that years ago when I was a columnist for this newspaper.

TrekMan

Right on Seven!! Amen!!

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