How should we teach our history to kids?

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.

Also this:

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.

Some interesting suggestions get made. We'll discuss those suggestions this week.


35 comments:

  1. "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."

    This is an unfair and unhelpful remark. If the left wanted to do nothing more than attack the accuracy and truthfulness of the right, all reports on liberal media would be focused attacks on items from Fox News. There would be no discussion of plans, policies and issues of concern to the left, since these are not mentioned at all on the right. No one can fairly characterize broadcasting as that.

    It is true that adherents on the left select that party because they believe in its principles and policies. It is the right of every citizen to make such a choice. It is implied that the chosen party is better than the one not chosen. But that isn't the same as living to denigrate others, much as Somerby appears to take pleasure in excoriating the left while pretending to be liberal.

    Notice this quote: "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..." Notice that Biden says nothing whatsoever to blame those who demand that negative info be suppressed. Biden is focused on a positive statement about what we should know, not a negative statement about those who want to deny others knowledge. This is typical of the liberal approach and Somerby's suggestion that the left only wishes to attack The Other is itself wrong. The left is issue oriented, not oriented toward winning at any cost by "owning" the others. "Own the libs" does not have an equivalent on our side.

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  2. There are so many unpleasant pieces of information that are communicated to school children:

    1. Everyone is going to die.
    2. Life is unfair in doling out money, health, attractiveness, brains, and many other resources and attributes.
    3. Some other children are not nice -- there is bullying, snobbery, embarrassment and other unpleasant social realities.
    4. Santa Claus is not real. Ditto Easter Bunny and other made up holiday-related figures (some include religious deities in this category).
    5. You may not be very good at sports and thus get selected last for teams.
    6. Friends may not like you are much as you want them to.
    7. Other kids may have a dog or trampoline and you don't.
    8. People in the past have done unspeakable things to each other (war, greed, corruption, tyranny, abuse, torture) with or without punishment for their crimes.
    9. Our planet is in trouble due to climate change and may become a much worse place to live.
    10. Unwanted pets are frequently euthanized.
    11. Children are considered too young to do things adults do freely, especially related to sex, drugs and staying up late.
    12. Children can die from accidents, gun-related crime, disease, murder or abuse. It isn't only old people who die.
    13. Parents can die, leaving children without them to fend for themselves.
    14. Everyone fails at something.
    15. Magic is not real.

    Education is a gradual coming to terms with all of life's unpleasantness. Claiming a special status for race that makes it not something to talk about, in case kids are made to feel bad about themselves, can apply to any of these awakenings.

    Parents dislike having kids come home and tell them to save their recyclables and stop polluting. They dislike being told they shouldn't smoke or drink wine. They dislike hearing that the coach wouldn't give their child enough playing time or that teacher didn't accept a late assignment. If they dislike being asked why their parents have no black friends, or why all the people on the poor side of town are black, too bad for them. Dealing with a child's opinions and questions is part of parenting, whether they are asking why grandma is having a funeral or where their dog went (heaven or back to the puppy farm).

    Somerby acts as if race were so untouchable a subject that no parent should have to encounter it, ever. Just as parents would love it if schools never mentioned sex, skin color and associated social inequality is obvious to children, even when not discussed, so that parents will have to deal with it. As with sex education, it is better to have facts that to deal with myths, and the danger all parents should wish to prevent is a teenager becoming infected with white supremacist nonsense while searching for a congenial group to hang with at college or in the disorienting time after graduation from high school. Those folks recruit by seeking out vulnerable kids in a social vacuum, just as drug dealers and pimps do.

    Somerby sounds as if he wants to put this all off by labeling it too difficult and then ignoring it. That approach doesn't work with any difficult topic.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Public school children are young."

    So are private school children and charter school children and home-schooled children. Why single out public school kids?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quite obviously, because he is referring to the quote he sourced. Were you just joking or are you really that stupid??

      You commenters are SO stupid you really must be joking in your comments. Please tell me you all are joking. Are you people really this stupid?

      Delete
    2. Here is the context:

      "Our racial history is very hard. Public school children are young."

      This is not just a problem for public schools, but for all schools and all children. There is no need to pretend that public school teachers are going to less trustworthy than teachers at any other sort of school.

      He is not referring to the quote but to the larger issue of race and when/how children should be educated about it.

      Do you really not understand that public school teachers (and their ratty unions) have been special targets for guys like Somerby, for decades here?

      And can you really not express your personal opinions without calling others stupid? And this, after Somerby claimed that it is liberals who are busily attacking The Other -- not 12-year-old conservatives like you.

      The only person who goes around calling other people stupid is someone really really insecure about his own intelligence.

      Delete
    3. Your reply is also stupid. You are stupid, I guess. Or are you joking? Clearly he referred to the quote by using that word. It's just evident. The original question is so dumb! Your response is so dumb. If you think I'm insecure about my intelligence, great. But that doesn't mean a lion's share of the comments here so God damn insanely stupid day after day after day. Somerby has been defending public school teachers and their unions forever you stupid ignorant moron! Or really are you just joking and trying to say the stupidest thing you can think of as some sort of absurdist trolling joke? That's got to be it. People can't be as dumb as you stupid ignorant fools. It's funny. I admit that it is funny the way you concoct comments that are so absurdly dumb and counterintuitive and against all reason and basis of facts. I mean it's kind of cool. It's it's very good in that way. In that way, they are smart. In that way, I commend you. You're the Baryshnikov of fake comments designed to be as stupid as possible without being so absurd that people would not take them seriously at all.

      Delete
    4. Blah blah blah stupid blah blah stupid stupid blah blah stupid blah stupid stupid. Dumb dumb blah blah fake dumb.

      This is what you sound like.

      Delete
    5. Same with all the comments here.

      "Why single out public school kids?"

      SO dumb.

      "public school teachers have been special targets for guys like Somerby for decades"

      Not stupid? Okay, I'll be nice. Completely wrong. I'll be nicer. You have the right to be stupid and make stupid comments and not understand the world or things you read.

      Delete
    6. "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."

      How is this supportive of teachers? Somerby implies that the article cherrypicked a rational sounding teacher but that the others might be worse. This, after spending yesterday ridiculing the training that CA was trying to provide to its teachers around issues of race and ethnicity.

      How on earth is this supportive of teachers? You tell me!

      Delete
    7. God, thinking about it, you're so right. I am stupid. What kind of idiot would try to make a completely moronic armchair political observer who can hardly reason or read, who has no sense of history or the bigger scheme of contemporary political dynamics and who expose themselves to extremely divisive propaganda day in and day out try to understand the depths of their ignorance? What an idiotic, quixotic endeavor. I must be completely stupid.

      Delete
    8. (I do hope for your own sake that you are in 4th grade.)

      Delete
    9. In other words, you can't do it.

      Delete
    10. One may as well stand on the beach and try to outyell the typhoons.

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  4. Certainly the "critical race theory" (or any other dembottery) has nothing to do with Marxism or anything leftist.

    Marxism calls for proletarians of the world to unite, while liberal dembotterly attempts to amplify and aggravate ethnic (and all other 'identity') grievances.

    It divides.

    Consequently, dear Bob, liberal dembotterly is exactly the opposite of Marxism and leftism. Liberal dembotterly is a far-right cultist creed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somerby,
      When you start calling yourself out, it might be time to come up with a more interesting sock-puppet.

      Delete
  5. Does the suggestion that we not teach true history strike anyone else as bizarre? Why are we even debating this?

    ReplyDelete
  6. ' 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.'

    Somerby may mean principal value here, but his use of the word principle is revealing, since principles are what his town of hardcore, malignant Trumptards, worshippers of Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Ron Johnson Matt Gaetz and Devin Nunes lacks.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Here is what Trump thinks will cure cyberattacks:

    "7 June 2021 - Former President Donald Trump suggested on Monday that the solution to cyberattacks is to stop using computers.

    “The way you stop it is you go back to a much more old-fashioned form of accounting and things,” Trump said. “You know, I have a son who is so good with computers. He’s a young person and he can make these things sing and when you put everything on internet and on all of these machines — you never see a piece of paper — I really think that you have to go back to a different form of accounting, a different form of compiling information.”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By the same reasoning, wouldn't it solve all the problems related to race if we just went back to the system of slavery?

      Delete
  8. Digby quotes an effort to connect the dots on the insurrection:

    https://digbysblog.net/2021/06/what-came-before-january-6th/

    This is another aspect of recent history that Republicans are refusing to examine factually, objectively, because so many of them are guilty of participating. I can't help but feel that Republicans also feel guilt about slavery and racism, know at some level that they are responsible, and thus do not want to examine that at all. That means this isn't about the kids but about their parents and their own unwillingness to examine their complicity in shameful aspects of an ongoing problem, racism.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "These kids drove behind me on a golf cart," Joseph said. "Three 12-13 year old boys said some racial statements to me with my back turned to them and when I turned around they already drove off. "

    This is why kids need to be taught something about our country's history in school. They obviously didn't get that instruction at home.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Rude Pundit says:

    "In other words, we are dealing with a Trump-induced hysteria, one that plays into every fear that conservatives, both the craven opportunists and the true believers, have warned their followers about for years, one that takes all their fears of non-whites and socialists (whatever the fuck they think that means) and abortions and non-Christians (because that fucking sky wizard is always in the mix) and LGBTQ people and wraps it in a big package with QAnon bow that says, "Of course they had to destroy the one man who was going to save us all." And, of course, in the face of that, a coup is horribly logical to keep that fantasy of white Christian supremacy alive.

    You're not going to solve any of this by trying to play nice. It's not possible. It's the quickest path to letting these fuckers take over without a fight. "

    ReplyDelete
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  12. “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”

    Important and difficult questions that Bob Somerby won’t try to answer.

    Meanwhile, teachers and school officials can’t punt like he does - they have to come up with an answer. And parents and editorial writers are contributing to the discussion by offering their ideas about what children should be taught.

    Where’s the problem?

    At least those folks are attempting to provide an answer to a question that has to be answered.

    Meanwhile, Somerby, not participating in the discussion, says “who knows? It’s really hard. Thank you, and good night.”

    ReplyDelete
  13. Lots of things might be controversial, or cause some parents to be upset.

    Teaching that the Civil War was a treasonous rebellion by the Southern states in order to uphold slavery will get some parents upset.

    Teaching what slavery was will upset people.

    Teaching in a science class that evolution is the way species evolve gets people upset.

    And on and on.

    But schools still have to teach these things.

    Public schools are always in the center of these kinds of debates.

    The question is how much the schools ought to defer to the community about what is taught.

    Is “slavery was bad” an ideology that should be avoided? How about “racism is bad?” But in order to teach that, you have to teach what slavery and racism are.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everyone's ancestors were slaves, at one point or another, dear mh. So, you're not special.

      Well, sorry, of course you are special, but not the way you think. Because everyone's ancestors were slaves, at one point or another, you see. Slavery was a perfectly normal socioeconomic practice. And in some places (like US prisons) still is. So, why don't you just get over yourself?

      Delete
    2. I doubt that there’s a school system in America that teaches that slavery was great stuff and that racism is as cool as Jesus.

      That’s not their argument.

      What they take issue with is that the system, to this day, is tore up to the floor up.

      Delete
  14. In the 80's I attended a university level class in Tulsa. The professor asked how many students had heard of the Tulsa race riot. I was the only one to raise my hand. I proceeded to explain how the 1921 occurrence was the NYT headline three days in a row. No one knew anything about it.

    ReplyDelete
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