History. The study of everything that happened in the world before I was born was one of my favorite subjects in school. It’s a big topic. In elementary school we focused on American history: the American revolution, the birth of democracy, the rise of the United States as a super power, and civics. I remember one teacher explaining it was important to learn about our past, so we could understand what went right and what went wrong. It made sense to me then and it still does now. If you can recognize past mistakes, they can be fixed in the future.
Each day I strive to become a better version of myself and a better citizen. But not everyone feels that way.
The whole backlash movement against teaching Critical Race Theory is rooted in the idea that it will be damaging to teach children about the ways in which past practices in America have led to discriminatory treatment of persons of color and other minority groups. The fear is that learning about the mistakes our ancestors made will burden our children with guilt. A Texas mother, Bonnie Anderson, expresses this point of view in her statements on the Radio podcast “This American Life.” She labels the popular semi-autobiographical children’s book New Kid by Jerry Craft as Critical Race Theory and wants it removed from the school library. “Because you don’t harm future generations of children because you went through a bad experience,” says Anderson. “You don’t poison the minds of my children even if it happened. You do not poison the minds of other kids and make them feel like they have to make concessions for being white.”
Is this the reason why there are holocaust deniers?
Most German citizens today will freely admit that terrible crimes were committed by Germans during the Nazi regime. Six million Jews and five million others (labeled as undesirable) were systemically murdered by the Nazis. It’s something taught in the schools. But in the United States where Native Americans were driven off their land and killed by genocide and war, where people of color were enslaved and systematically treated as inferior for hundreds of years, the specifics are glossed over.
And the reason given for not teaching the unvarnished truth about what happened is because it will make out children feel bad? Because they might feel obligated to right the wrongs of their ancestors?
It has baffled me from the time when I first learned about ancient Egypt, Greece and Babylon and all our early engineering marvels—the wheel, the pyramid, arches and viaducts—that socially the human race still grapples with the injustices of war, famine, and social inequity. Why is it taking us thousands of years to figure out how to live in peace?
The best way to correct a mistake is to point it out and fix it immediately. If you ignore it and pretend it never happened, the same mistake will probably happen again.
On January 6, 2020 a mob broke into the United States Capital and attempted to stop the peaceful transfer of power, the counting and certification of the Presidential election. This was a political insurrection. Lives were lost, public property vandalized, and citizens traumatized. Members of Congress have been attempting to thoroughly investigate what happened so that it will never happen again, but other members of Congress as well as a substantial number of citizens are saying, We need to just move on. Let’s not dwell in the mistakes of the past.
As one of many who would like to see an end to polarization, and an agreement among all Americans during this stressful time of how to approach the challenging problems that face us– a global pandemic, rising seas, homelessness and hunger—we need to pay attention to what has happened and is happening around us. Denying or ignoring painful injustices doesn’t erase them.
Not listening to the news doesn’t make bad news vanish. Yes, I know many people are exhausted and want to focus on happier times. Unfortunately, burying your head in the sand is not the solution. We’re all in this together.
History should not be ignored.