The Discomforting of America

The Discomforting of America

Around the country, cries of “No CRT in the classroom!” are ringing out and lawmakers in many states are using this as a rallying cry to keep the teaching of history “Eurocentric.” It is bad enough that more than 14 states have or are currently working to enact legislation that restricts voting rights, and the Supreme Court majority decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (July 1, 2021)  will restrict voting rights for minorities, now the teaching of history itself is under attack.

For thirty-three years I have worked diligently to learn about and to include the voices of the underrepresented, the silenced, and the outliers throughout history.

Their stories, both beautiful and disconsolate, are as much a part of our nation’s history as that of the European colonizers who would forever change the cultural and political landscape of the Americas. Today, people are actively working to silence those voices because it makes them uncomfortable.

Critical Race Theory is taught in law schools and institutions of higher learning as a means for, “interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.”  What is taught in K-12 schools is a critical analysis of history. We teach students to question, to dig deeper, to critically analyze, and then to take informed action.  When we look at the past we must always delve into the layers of our history. History is not always comfortable. Protesters would have you believe that K-12 educators are indoctrinating our youth. Teaching students to think critically is not indoctrination; it is giving students the skills to become informed citizens.

One cannot study the Holocaust and genocide and be comfortable. We cannot look at systemic racism and be comfortable. We cannot talk about revolution, civil war, and world war and be comfortable. The study of history is messy and oftentimes uncomfortable. To quote Lee Francis IV in his graphic novel, Ghost River, “History is complicated. Violence is simple.” It always has been, and always will be. We cannot change the past, but as historians and teachers of history it is our job to ensure that students understand that history is not one-sided. It is very complicated. Therefore, if one does not know something, one must always dig deeper so as to understand, acknowledge, appreciate, learn, and then act to make the world better for all people, not just the people who share the same race, culture, and/or values.

We are seeing the by-product of a decades-long decrease in funding and support for social studies and civic education in our nation.

Misinformation is rampant, voting rights are being challenged, and now the mere study of history is being questioned as a means for “indoctrination.”  When did teaching students to think about a topic critically and from multiple perspectives become indoctrination?

As an activist who participated in my first march for equality at age 7, it appalls me that we are going backwards in our progress for basic human rights. Voting rights are human rights. Learning about our history in a non-partisan way is a right that is necessary for our ever-changing nation.  Article 26 (2) of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…”.  We cannot promote understanding of this nature without history education that dives into the complete picture of our nation and the greater world, warts and all.

The Tantaquidgeon Museum has a motto that sums it up:  “It’s hard to hate someone that you know a lot about.”   An educator’s role is to open students up to a world of possibilities. Education has the capacity to change lives. Learning about our nation’s history with all of its successes and failures strengthens our nation. Recognizing that those who crafted our founding documents were humans with faults is not a negative and it does not amount to indoctrination of young people to say so.  They were mere mortals and as such made mistakes, albeit some larger than others.

History education has evolved since the founding of Common Schools in our early republic. The United States is a nation of people representing hundreds of cultural, ethnic, and religious groups. To teach history with a blind eye to all of its stories would be dishonoring those who came before us and a disservice to our students. History education is what makes history because young people learn about the past; critically evaluate the possibilities for themselves and others; learn to stand up and speak out for the unheard; build bridges to the world; and help create a better future for all people. Every person’s story is worthy of inclusion.

LéAnn Murphy Cassidy, Ed.S. is the 2018 Connecticut History Teacher of the Year, as well as a 2018 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year Finalist. She has been a classroom teacher for thirty-three years, serving simultaneously as a lead teacher and master mentor for the last fourteen years.






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