MONDAY, JUNE 7, 2021
Editors spoon out the pabulum: How should our nation's public schools teach our brutal racial history? What should children be taught at different ages, in different grades, in different demographic settings?
Persistent posturing to the side, it isn't real easy to say. Today, the editors of the Washington Post offered readers some pleasing pabulum concerning this new high-profile topic.
In principle—which is to say, on the surface—the editorial may have seemed to make perfect sense. Here's part of what was said:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (6/7/21): “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, the everything,” President Biden said at this week’s 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, the annihilation of a prosperous Black neighborhood by a White mob that was long overlooked in the history books. Oklahoma is one of the states that has enacted legislation that aims to limit what students learn about racism, and its role in shaping American laws and institutions—making Mr. Biden’s rebuke of those who want to whitewash history all the more powerful.
Supporters of the statewide bans [on teaching "critical race theory"] claim that public schools are indoctrinating students with “Marxist” or leftist groupthink; use of the New York Times’ prizewinning but controversial 1619 Project has become a frequent target. Clearly, schools shouldn’t teach ideology, and educators should be mindful of parental concerns. But credence shouldn’t be given to the cynical notion that teachers can’t be trusted. “I give the students the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. That’s what learning is,” said a Dallas middle school teacher, articulating a core principle of pedagogy that should be animating the debate about how history is taught.
The editors establish some basic points in that passage We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know, they say. Also, we shouldn't "whitewash history."
Also, public schools shouldn’t teach ideology. And educators should be mindful of parental concerns.
Fair-minded people will tend to agree with those platitudes. That doesn't tell us what second-graders should be told about our brutal racial history, or even fourth- or fifth-graders.
What should children be taught, at what age? How much of "the bad" should they be told, and at what age? Unless you're living in a dream world, those are important and difficult questions.
The editors offer one more reassurance. "Credence shouldn’t be given to the cynical notion that teachers can’t be trusted," they say.
At that point, they quote a Dallas middle school teacher. She offers reassurances about her motives and her classroom practices.
The teacher was quoted in this thoughtful analysis piece in Saturday's Washington Post. Based upon a bit of googling, the young teacher in question is quite plainly thoughtful, well-intentioned, smart.
That doesn't mean that she'll have perfect judgment about these difficult questions. Other teachers may not have great judgment about such matters at all.
Our racial history is very hard. Public school children are young.
Different parents will have different ideas about what kinds of curriculum will make sense in this deeply fraught area. Today's editorial comes from a region near La-La Land. It almost seems to come from an all-too-familiar place—from a place where the principle value is the desire to say that The Others are wrong.
More on this topic to follow. Tribal certainties to the side, there's nothing easy about knowing how to teach our history to kids.
For extra credit only: We recommend this colloquy between Conor Friedersdorf and Anastasia Higginbotham. Their conversation appears at The Atlantic, beneath these headlines:
‘Nobody Wants White Kids to Feel Bad About Their Race’
The children’s-book author Anastasia Higginbotham and I disagree about how to teach young Americans about police killings and racism.