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Research & Thoughts

History Lesson #17: Whose Historic Heritage is it?

We've heard lately of the outrage in teaching the Critical Race Theory (CRT). I personally had no problem with this particular idea IF it is taught to balance what in the past could be called "patriotic history" or conqueror's history.  U.S. history has been taught (as do other nations, no doubt) to show itself in a good light to make us good citizens. I can see blending CRT into a seamless history narrative to show what our country was really like. This is a nation of immigration, of pushing aside native Indians for the land, of importing blacks to work the huge plantations of crops, of throwing off the British yoke of economic oppression for the sake and need to conquer the entire country; all of these things need to be taught in a seamless approach.

 

I read recently in Madison's own Ithmus, a free quality paper they publish monthly (January 2022), something that made me want to look further into what happened to standardized education in this country. I agreed long ago that history needs to be taught with an objective approach, but today's history seems to be further segmented. Ruth Coniff, author of "The Unraveling of public education in Wisconsin," talks about a tribal college in Hayward helping to launch a conservative charter school further south in Oconomowoc -- Lake Country Classical Academy. This school has a "1776 curriculum," Trump's answer to CRT, and she refers to this revelation as shining "a light on the unraveling of public education in Wisconsin." More specifically, this is the unraveling of our historic heritage.

 

The problem may be one of the unregulated education of charter schools. We had a new one open up here in Beloit, called "The Lincoln Academy," which I'll look at further in a moment. But to get more into what has outraged me here into noting the danger of this unraveling of public education, from the viewpoint of these Ojibwe college authorities: "The U.S. government has just shredded Ojibwe knowledge and indigenous knowledge. So for me, the big thing is educational sovereignty. Parents have the right to educate their kids the way they see fit."

 

Yes, they do. At home. If we have a proper educational system, all history being taught would be objective over-arching history, summarizing the experiences of all the people who've lived it, and stimulating the children into looking at their specific interests. But have we ever had that? I came to my history master's degree late in life; in 2006 I was 53 years old. In high school history was my most dreaded subject. Learning dates and names was never my strong suit; still isn't. Did I at that time believe I was being indoctrinated? Perhaps. I had the misfortune of communicating with that history teacher after getting my master's and learned he was a Trump supporter, too, as are many in my high school graduating class. I have never been one to support white supremacy, not ever, though I have voted Republican in the past (not since Reagan's first term, though). And when I attended my first history class, just for fun, with a very liberal history professor while going for my BA in communications, I was both shocked and delighted, and switched my major.

 

While going for my BA in Green Bay, I discovered the horrors of Columbus and began to promote changing Columbus Day to Diversity Day. I still remember my conservative professor, who said to me we shouldn't try to change history. I didn't want to change it, I replied. I just want the truth to be known. These conflicting attitudes indicate that we have history teaching problems yet today.

 

Why can't kids learn real history? Because they might come to hate the U.S.? I didn't. Teachers need to have history sensitivity training, I think, to teach that attitude of the history players is what created those events, and how we're all human. Yes, even Lincoln.

 

"Right to educate how we see fit." Does that pertain to school systems? It shouldn't. Because it's part of what further divides this country into camps. You want a president like Biden to be a moderate, and yet he's got the lowest approval rating ever. Why? Because he can't satisfy a single one of these "camps." Tribal sovereignty wants to establish their own charter schools so they, too, can teach their kids any way they want. This is what Trump's reaction to CRT meant, his insistence that patriotic history is all that matters. This shows how the mis-election of someone who had no business being president continues to erode at that idea that we were or could still be "united states."

 

Coniff speaks strictly from a Wisconsin view. She says that in 2011 Wisconsin's legislature (under a GOP governor) cut per pupil spending by $554 across the state. Per pupil. That's a significant amount. If you were to watch a new T.V. series called "Abbott Elementary," you would see them struggling for lack of funds in a public school. And you would call teachers heroes for struggling against all kinds of odds. Even Democratic Governor Evers has had no luck raising the budget of spending on schools with his Republican legislature; well, you have to blame them as Evers was Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction. But the state continues to funnel money into these charter schools.

 

The situation is complex, we can telling from looking at Coniff's list of what entities can authorize charter schools:

UW's Office of Educational Opportunity, Milwaukee's common council, the chancellors of UW System schools, technical college district boards, the Waukesha county executive, and the state's two tribal colleges -- The College of the Menominee Nation and the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College. Imagine all these 'lower case' unnamed people able to say parents have the right to chose how their kids are educated, and the possibility that this choice is racially biased.

 

The one thing I know about history is that there are two (or more) sides to every story. That's the problem with parental choice. What side do they want for their kids? If it's not objective history, it will only further divide us as people trying to live in a single culture. That's almost a laugh, isn't it? A single culture here in the U.S.? But I digress.

 

If a charter school is authorized by any of these lower-case entities, then they qualified for a grant from the state. To be clear, the one in Oconomowoc is a tribal-related entity, but it does not just serve tribal members. This academy's founder, Kristina Vourax, according to Coniff, noted, "We have a mixture of all backgrounds." The burden on the city where these kids come from to fund the school is astronomical, too. What does this do to other schools in the area? Are they operating at a loss?

 

Coniff ends her article with a bit of a whimper. "That cost includes our shared interest in maintaining high-quality public schools for all Wisconsin children." Well, yes it does. But what about solutions? Are there any? I'm suspecting that the normal subjects of reading and writing, and learning math to be able to perform in society are still being taught. Focus is more on computers than it ever was when I was in school. But the most divisive subject is history, and that's my concern here. If charter schools are allowed to teach history any way they want, we have an over-arching regulatory problem. Not that public schools have been doing better. But it sounds like charter schools are being allowed to further divide our historical roots.

 

Let's look at little closer at another example: The Lincoln Academy here in Beloit. Now I have to say, first off, that since moving to Beloit four years ago, our property tax has gone up over $700, and this with no further services added and no further assessment upgrade on our house. We lived in a town in Oconto County for 40 years and never saw more than a $100 increase /decrease in any given year. Can we relate this increase to educational changes?

 

I went to this charter school's website and learn they call themselves a "public charter."  Here's what I found about that designation:

 

A public charter school is a school that's publicly funded, free to attend, and run by independent contracts. Often, people will confuse public charter schools with private schools, but they are quite different in terms of funding, accessibility, and structure. Whereas public charters are free for students to attend, private schools are tuition-based and aren't regulated by the government. Private schools also tend to have looser regulatory standards, whereas public charters need to uphold an agreed-upon charter that's set up by a board. Public charter schools are also different from traditional public schools. Contrary to some myths, the biggest difference between the two isn't that they're regulated; it's how they're regulated. Traditional public schools follow a strict set of guidelines that are set by the school district. Public charter schools still need to follow federal laws and regulations, but they're not tied to a district school board. Instead, they follow guidelines that are set up by a separate, independent board. 

 

That would explain that increase in our property taxes, and no, we had no say. My husband said our Republican legislature had that say for us. Then I took a look at the curriculum, K through high school, and not a single history class to be found anywhere. How is not teaching history a solution?

 

Be assured that if objective history is not being taught at any grade level, people will pick and choose what to believe about our nation's history. Here's a good comment about how history is being taught today, and it appears it hasn't changed in 50 years:

 

Currently, most students learn history as a set narrative—a process that reinforces the mistaken idea that the past can be synthesized into a single, standardized chronicle of several hundred pages. This teaching pretends that there is a uniform collective story, which is akin to saying everyone remembers events the same.

 

Okay, this article was dated 2015, but that's not all that long ago, just previous to Trump.

 

I tried to sell an article on political correctness once, where I make the point that history teachers need better training so they know how to teach history. Instead of banning Mark Twain from the classroom, figuring out how to explain the racism in our history could have a positive impact on students, especially with the explanation about how we're all better people for understanding that we're all human. History is a humanities issue, after all. I don't understand how hard that can be. We ban what we don't want to face, what makes us uncomfortable, or can show us in a negative light. We need to see that negative light throughout our history to understand our country today.

 

One problem noted was that "When historians begin to explain and interpret facts and events, they are using their personal judgments and opinions." If they are trained properly, they will learn how to interpret those events using only the attitudes of those who lived and created those events, not their own. Maybe that's what we're missing today. No one should interpret the past with today's viewpoints.

 

No, it's not possible to teach everything about every immigration pattern or indigenous prehistory. Is it even possible to give them a sense of belonging to this world? Of course it is. If history teachers are taught to be objective, it will be amazing what they can teach. If they are freed of the restrictions of pretending that that our "American" history can do no wrong, then true immigration and true native indigenous history will emerge. It has to. Because that's what this country is.

 

Sources in addition to Ithmus:

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/the-problem-with-history-classes/387823/

 

https://www.thelincolnacademybeloit.com/ 

 

https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/readers-respond/bs-ed-rr-history-instruction-letter-20210629-nmnfpbrbk5hjbmpgq2k6ctf2ae-story.html 

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History Lesson #5: CRT VS PC: The Way History Needs to be Taught

When the transcontinental railroad was being constructed across the U.S., specifically that section that went east from California, the Chinese were pivotal in providing the labor to get it done. And yet, they were prejudiced against. Why?

 

Such is the discussion of history in the United States. We are long past due to teach history with honesty and attitude. How can we be the people we are when we are constantly living lies? Why is teaching real history even a debate?

 

We have a lot of hate and anger in this country that was of late exemplar in Trump's "Make America Great Again." He even tried to counter the 1619 Project with the alternate attitude in the ill-conceived 1776 Project to "re-promote" patriotic education. Find more on 1619 here: https://www.project1619.org/. In short, that's the year that slaves were first brought here, and this project wants everyone to know American history from the perspective of its slaves. Trump felt we should know it from the perspective of the founders of the Constitution - I think. We all know the constitution was not founded on equality for all, even though it says that, because at the time it only meant white men; certainly not Indians, Blacks or women.

 

There is another way to teach history. Simply by sharing what happened, and why. We used to call it Political Correctness, but in the current climate we hear the debate is over whether or not to teach Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the schools. Why do we have to give the truth fancy names? Isn't that a sure way to continue to divide us?

 

Look, I wrote two books where all I did was follow what happened and why. Yes, I found out things I never knew. It didn't make me hate this country. It made me understand this country.

 

Here's how to understand CRT:

 

In order to understand the problem of Critical Race Training in Higher Education, parents and students need to understand what Critical Race Theory is and how it is implemented. As discussed below, Critical Race Theory is not the traditional civil rights movement, which sought to provide equal opportunity and dignity without regard to race. Rather, Critical Race Theory, and the training to implement it, is a radical ideology that focuses on race as the key to understanding society, and objectifies people based on race.

 

As a radical ideology it has, so far, only divided us further as a country. Let's get back to PC issues and talk about what really happened in our history as a way to teach history.

 

I belong to a number of western Facebook pages and to Western Writers of America, and the most vocal people at these sites are pro-gun and pro-GOP. They think us liberals are all about socialism, a word they abhor without even knowing what it is. Why can't we make Indians the bad guys in our westerns again? Political Correctness (PC) has ruined westerns.

 

And it's true, cowboys and Indians aren't good guys chasing bad guys anymore. We've learned, and it's taken long enough, that history is not black & white. There were as many bad white cowboys as there were bad red Indians. Real history shows us that the Indians alone did not slaughter Custer and his troops. The army's negligence was also responsible; negligence and political maneuvering to take the Black Hills. That's real history. It's not "re-thinking history." It's removing history's patriotic skin to see what really happened. We don't misuse PC to show what really happened. But we do use PC to make those movies that show what really happened.

 

You could continue to make fiction movies that show Indians as bad guys. But at least put them on another planet, okay?

 

Yes, it's true, patriotic history has been taught all through the 20th Century, as Waxman noted. It is long past time to stop. We're smarter than that now. We know what happened in the '60s as a result of Civil  Rights, though many of us still fear voicing it.

 

I just read an article about CRT by Oivia B. Waxman in Time Magazine and it's more clear than ever that this idea only further divides. It's controversial. Truth in history is not. Oh, sure, some say teaching true history means our kids will grow up hating the  U.S. That we'll stop pledging allegiance and no longer want to fly the flag.

 

Hang in there: I'm going to show you why this isn't true. As Waxman noted, our understanding of the past is the key to how we envision the future. If we're stuck in the "South lost because their slaves were taken away" version of American history, we cannot progress as a united nation. Maybe that's been our trouble all along. We have not been able to unite since the Civil War.

 

We can. But it's going to take a real human understanding that no one ever deserved to be enslaved. We can say our forefathers were wrong and learn to live with it. That their "ideal" of equality is still being played out, and is a worthy endeavor. We can say we knew what they meant, even if they didn't. If you 'red' (not reed) Civil War & Bloody Peace, you learned that war was going to break out over western migration, as it did once before; the British didn't want the colonies to expand into Indian territory either. For completely racist notions, the Civil War was fought, and there was no way around it. But though the Union won freedom (for what that was worth) for Black people, the losers were the Indians.

 

But Lincoln didn't free the slaves. That is lesson #1 in true history. And Washington felt only rich white men should vote. That's lesson #2. The United States was not established on true equality, but on flawed humans' idea of equality. Jefferson opposed Washington, and yet some want to erase Jefferson's name. Nonsense. Erasing any true history is non-PC.

 

CRT has rallied opponents who say it perpetuates racism and exclusion. Waxman gives Rockwood School District in Missouri as a case in point. The Missouri governor recently said they don't have to abide by federal gun laws. So we know Missouri is a hard GOP case. I'm sure CRT has supporters elsewhere.

 

But I am not a fan of anything that further divides us anywhere. Can teaching the simple and objective truth do that? What some fear is weighing the scales too much in the opposite direction. Teaching the simple truth does not do that. When I set out to write Civil War & Bloody Peace, I wanted objectivity. I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I appreciated the author's attempts to show what really happened in history but I felt it tipped the scale a little too much in the other direction and really didn't get at the truth that we needed.

 

The truth that we need is one that shows President Grant as he was, not as he wanted us to remember him. The truth allows us to continue to read books like Mark Twain.

 

Mark Twain was the one who encouraged and helped President Grant write his Civil War memoirs. Mark Twain helped create his image. Grant avoided writing anything related to his presidential years. Okay, he was dying of throat cancer at the time, but when he left office in 1877, all he said related to his presidency was as an apology for allowing politicians to walk all over him. Really? The hero of the Civil War is blaming others for the graft and corruption during his presidency?

 

I don't use anyone's autobiography to demonstrate who they were. Nor would I demean any fiction novel like Twain's, written in the past that is a mirror to what that time period was like. You want to know who Grant was, you have to follow objective history.

 

Unless we learn from history we could well repeat it. And hiding what was written in history has been part of our historical legacy, too, because our history embarrasses us. We want to hide it. Hiding it hasn't done us any good, so let's try learning the truth for a change.

 

Grant felt the Indians could be pushed around. Trump felt minorities could be pushed around. He professed to being the first to cut off travel from China, but allowed the virus to get in through all other routes. The first occurrences turned up in NYC and Seattle. We heard early in our shut-down in 2020 that minorities would get hit the hardest. Did Trump know this, too? Is this why he felt he should not have lost the 2020 election? Yet he held rallies that summer and didn't care if his supporters wore masks. He said no, he wasn't worried about the virus; he was standing far enough away from everyone. How that didn't lose him votes, I don't know.

 

I do feel the GOP got more votes by cheating, and yet they accuse the Democrats of it. Why wouldn't there be more absentee balloting in 2020? There was a pandemic shutdown at the time.

 

Trump felt Black Lives Matters was one of the problems in the country that White Supremacy could fix. Trump supporters were the ones who caused the violence during the peaceful protests that summer of 2020. They were the ones who had something to gain by disrupting protests over the death of George Floyd. Trump was the one who had something to gain if he could send out the National Guard against a largely Black protest.

 

Trump decided that his election loss was fraudulent and he gets his QAnon followers so worked up that they tried to invalidate the final election vote confirmation on January 6th by storming the capitol. Trump was completely against the peaceful transfer of power that had been our strength in this country since the Constitution was devised, not because he was being PC. No, because he was a poor loser.

 

By standing against what this country stood for, he and his supporters committed the biggest act of political incorrectness. You can't pretend reality is what you want it to be. You can't pretend that history is supposed to go your way because you think you're the good guys. Voters decide, as they always have. And losers, up until Trump, have always been gracious.

 

To be politically correct, we have to correct our misconceptions of history. We have to erase what used to be patriotic history and learn the real history of the U.S., a country born in violence that seems to know no other way to respond. Since Biden was confirmed, gun violence has been worse than ever. According to CBS News on June 24th, there have been 296 mass shootings so far this year, the deadliest year in two decades.

 

Waxman said it right, that most people have to go to college to learn real history. And that's what makes colleges both liberal and hotbeds of protest. How dare educators lie to me all this time! I hated history in high school. I graduated in 1971 and didn't have my first college history class until 1995. I now hold a master's in history. True history is illuminating and invigorating. There's so much potential there for us to become a real and united people. But only if we learn it.

 

Waxman noted one who said that they weren't racist just because they didn't want CRT taught in their classroom, but she didn't say what it DID make them. What other reason is there for not wanting it taught? In my mind, it could tip the scale too far the other way and that is what people are objecting to, I think.

 

We need objective history and we need it in the grade schools, and we need it yesterday.

 

Trump committed the largest act of political incorrectness by supporting only the white Christians who don't believe that black lives matter.

 

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, as a PC salute to the past. It commemorates the end of slavery by making the day slaves in Texas heard they were free a federal holiday. It has nothing to do with the Civil War, or the 13th Amendment. Texas was simply the last to let those people go.

 

What does another holiday accomplish? I'm not sure. But finding this out, and the Oklahoma massacre, and so many other things that I share in From Lincoln to Trump, is a good start. Maybe we need the students to ask more questions. Maybe the parents can tell them things they don't learn in schools as a way to start those conversations. Maybe if we show that learning the truth doesn't hurt us but sets us free and makes us feel not only smarter but more responsible to do better, we'll be able to move for real honest curriculum in our schools.

 

In the South in the 1960s, we saw a lot of objection to Civil Rights emerge, and when Kennedy pushed for it, and Johnson finished it, many of the Southern Dixicrats turned Republican. It had been Republicans who were against doing away with segregation. They felt segregation worked. They didn't see the Blacks as a voting bloc worth championing. President Kennedy did, and Bobby Kennedy picked up the Civil Rights voting mantle and ran with it. He got 100% of the black vote in the Los Angeles Watts District just before he was killed. Why was he killed? Because of Civil Rights. That's why his brother John and Martin Luther King were killed.

 

We cannot pretend race was never an issue. We have not had any decent progress toward equality since then. But the way to get it is through the truth in history.

 

Yes, it's good to recognize the end of slavery in Juneteenth. But we also have to recognize it wasn't the end of prejudice. It is being PC to write history as it was, not as we were taught to be patriotic and believe America was right no matter what, because then we'll start to understand where we're at today.

 

You see it, right? If you're taught to believe America is right no matter what, then how could slavery have been wrong? No, it's patriotic teaching that's wrong.

 

This country of immigrants is filled with examples of prejudice. Here are just a few I used in From Lincoln to Trump:

 

"Why not discriminate? Why aid in the increase and distribution over our domain of a degraded and inferior race and the progenitors of an inferior sort of men?" This was a quote by Republican Senator John F. Miller of California, and he may have been referring to the Chinese, who he wanted to stop coming to California. (President) Arthur refused to exclude them from immigrating for twenty years, instead reducing it to ten. They were not given citizenship, a law that was finally repealed in 1943. (p. 65)

 

In 1942 Mexican immigration was encouraged for agricultural needs because of the fear of labor shortages. Called the Bracero Program, it continued to be renewed for the source of cheap labor. FDR incarcerated Japanese US citizens during the war; one refused to go and took the case to the Supreme Court, who ruled it as a military necessity. (p. 108.)

 

Once we acknowledge that our country has had a past filled with subjective hatred and injury, we discover the true meaning of PC, that we are a different, and a better, people today and the changes in the way we look at ourselves is the best use of PC there is.

 

Michael Foucault noted that a true student of the past

 

…must grapple primarily with the events of history, its jolts, its surprises, its unsteady victories and unpalatable defeats -- the basis of all beginnings, atavisms and heredities.

 

If we show both the good and the bad in U.S. history to even our children, we'll discover that they are able to understand and still love our country, if we teach it right. We are all flawed human beings, doing our best in a flawed system. Let's teach it that way.

 

SOURCES

 https://criticalrace.org/what-is-critical-race-theory/. 

 Olivia B. Waxman, "Past Tense," Time, July 5 - 12, 2021, p. 81.

 https://www.cbsnews.com/news/2021-deadliest-year-gun-violence/. 

 Matthew Karp, "History as End," Harpers, July 2021, p. 29.

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