A Patriotic Education

Earlier this week, the president made the following remarks about history education. 

On this very day in 1787, our Founding Fathers signed the Constitution at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was the fulfillment of a thousand years of Western civilization. Our Constitution was the product of centuries of tradition, wisdom, and experience. No political document has done more to advance the human condition or propel the engine of progress.Yet, as we gather this afternoon, a radical movement is attempting to demolish this treasured and precious inheritance. We can’t let that happen. 

The left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long. Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history.

The left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies. There is no better example than the New York Times’ totally discredited 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.

Students in our universities are inundated with critical race theory. This is a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed. 

Patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country. American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools, cancel culture at our work, or the repression of traditional faith, culture, and values in the public square.

It’s the audacity for me.

The president would have you believe that I, as a teacher who includes a multitude of voices, who strives to decolonize my curriculum and bookshelves, who teaches about the ways in which enslaved labor built and sustained this country, who uses The 1619 Project and The Zinn Education Project in her classroom, who teaches real American history, am part of the problem.

I am here to assure you I am part of the solution. 

Last year, I developed my dream humanities curriculum.  We examined American history solely from the perspective of marginalized communities. I called the course “Conflict and Cooperation” and the focus was on using American history to examine the options for engaging with people we perceive as “other”.   Units included Immigration, Borders, and Identity; Early American History through an Indigenous lens; Resistance and Agency during Enslavement; Abolition and The Civil War, and World War 2, The Holocaust, and Japanese American Incarceration. It felt really good to teach American history this way.  We talked about the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, The Civil War, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Pearl Harbor, and all of the usual required topics, but we didn’t focus on rehashing fairy tales.  

Instead, with a diverse group of students from many different backgrounds, our class looked at all of the ways that diversity can make life complicated.  It is hard work to communicate well and compromise across cultures.  They see this in their own lives, relationships, and interactions.  Humans are tribal by nature.  We want to protect “our own”.  What does it mean to widen one’s tribe, one’s circle of compassion, one’s nation?  They saw that the racism, colonization, subjugation, violence, terror, exclusion, and oppression that are a part of America’s legacy were not necessary, inevitable outcomes.  People – groups and individuals – made choices and those choices either led to moments of injustice or justice, war or peace, conflict or collaboration. There continue to be opportunities to make those choices. Right now is one of them. 

True love means seeing and embracing someone wholly, including their flaws.  It means wanting better for them than they might want for themselves.  So it is with true patriotism.  The Constitution was part of an imperfect beginning, not an impeccable end.  On a historical timeline, America is specks years old.  1776 was as good as it got? To limit our peak and our promise like that is sad and the true affront to the multitude of founding folk who planted seeds with the expectation later generations would do better. 

I love teaching kids that the American experiment is far from over. I love teaching them that there is still work to be done and that they are the ones who will do it. I love participating in the creation of a knowledgeable and invested citizenry activated and ready to do their part to make good on the idea that we are all created equal. The president and other weak people think we are teaching hate. To the contrary, we are teaching hope.

The goal of materials like The 1619 Project and The Zinn Education Project is to amplify those who have been rendered voiceless by the “traditional” curriculum.  They lift up new heroes from the shadows and complicate known narratives.  They teach students to look at events from multiple perspectives and to think critically.  It is understandable that the president and his advisors don’t want our kids to know this information. This information is empowering, and it is especially empowering for people who are not supposed to have any power.

Clearly, the president is particularly concerned with suppressing the voices of Black people. Well, too late. We are taking control of the narrative. Slavery happened and without slavery, America wouldn’t have happened. Black people built this country and remain here to collect what is still owed – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. No more and no less. The facts are what they are. Erasing them from schools won’t change that and if your students don’t know the truth, my students will be correcting them in classrooms and boardrooms for years to come. 

I suggest checking out the following resources for yourselves since the president often has his facts crooked. These are the kinds of ideas he is against. This is the information he does not want our young people to have access to. These are the ideas he considers dangerous.

  • The Pulitzer Center provides these engaging ideas and activities on The 1619 Project. 
  • The Zinn Education Project is adapting their materials for remote learning, including many of the interactives and mixers.
  • Densho is my go-to for materials on Japanese American incarceration, which is undertaught but critical history. 
  • Pollyanna has a terrific set of lessons for racial literacy grades K-8.
  • Facing History has great ideas for teaching current events from a critical thinking stance.
  • Teaching Tolerance also has a wide variety of materials like this set based on the book The Color of Law.

In the end I have nothing to fear from the president and his attacks on knowledge, information, and history. He and his 1776 commission can go on ahead and create their little curriculum. I feel certain that what I am teaching is more accurate. I feel confident that teaching it is the right thing to do. I know that it is good practice, good pedagogy, good education, and good trouble. I feel very clear that if history has its eyes on me, I am proud of what it will see.

November 3rd can’t come soon enough. 

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