Submitted by Adam Barrington
The recent controversy regarding Washoe County School District’s refusal to adopt a social justice curriculum, and the shameful squealing of opponents of such a curriculum, are telling. Just what is it about demands to teach accurate history that produces such consternation and fury in the conservative ranks of Washoe’s citizenry?
There are, it must be said, two answers to this question, and they are not mutually exclusive.
The first answer is that opponents of teaching accurate history are genuinely oblivious to the suffering and turmoil which characterize human history, let alone American history. They view the past as something alien and intangible, and history as a cartoon.
Having internalized an “education” that preached the virtues of Columbus, provided only a cursory glance at the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, and maybe offered a glimpse of the violent struggle between workers and capitalists, those decrying the implementation of a “social justice curriculum” view such a curriculum with hostility because they haven’t confronted real history.
The second answer is that opponents of teaching accurate history are fully aware of the information mentioned above, and they simply do not care. They view schools as hubs for the indoctrination of future generations of obedient citizens. They reject the teaching of accurate history because it endangers illusions of American exceptionalism and blind nationalism. They want to keep students far away from the truths and lessons of the past because they fear the students will recognize themselves in the ether of history. Thus, they seek to prevent history from serving its most important function: correcting the mistakes and cruelties of the past.
To paraphrase an idea from Mark Twain’s autobiography, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Twain was also a supporter of labor unions, a critic of Manifest Destiny, and critical of organized religion, but you wouldn’t know that from the way his life and work are taught by curriculums pushing anti-history.
Similarly, students of anti-history wouldn’t know that Helen Keller was a radical socialist, nor would they know that President John Quincy Adams considered the U.S. government’s treatment of “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty,” to be “among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement.”
None of this is to say that a “social justice curriculum” is not without limitations. For example, Critical Race Theory’s chasmal shortcoming is its neglect of the role that class has played in history.
In order to truly educate and not simply indoctrinate students, teachers must be able to discuss uncomfortable and inconvenient topics. Otherwise, real emotional and intellectual growth is impossible. It is not the duty of educators to instill in their students a sense of foolish pride based on national identity – this is reserved for totalitarian societies.
If we are to pursue the ideal of being a country worth keeping, we must acknowledge where our forebears fell short of humanity.
Adam Barrington is cofounder of the People’s Solidarity Program and host of General Strike Radio on KWNK 97.7 FM.
Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.
This Is Reno is your source for award-winning independent, online Reno news and events since 2009. We are locally owned and operated.