A family feud over American history
Each time the general public begins to tire of a subject that has held their attention for a few weeks – more or less – another comes to replace it. One could argue that the new concern is more important, more timely or more interesting. But the truth is, the majority of us have short attention spans and are as fickle about public affairs as young Scarlett O’Hara was about suitors – before Rhett Butler, of course. There are a few eccentrics who hang on and defend a single vision or notion far beyond what is normal. They are called fanatics.
Our concern for the COVID virus lasted far longer than most because, like World War II, it affected our daily lives, causing shortages, banning gatherings, and requiring us to wear masks. (Conversely, the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts, which combined cost us 100,000 troops, had little effect on our civilian population.) Nonetheless, our interest in the virus is waning, as This is evidenced by the number of people who do not get vaccinated. .
The last election provided us with something to talk about for some time. The storming of the Capitol was really exciting, in part because it was on TV, and anything that comes on live TV will draw viewers. Black Lives Matter is important and timely, but one of the reasons it stays in the news is that every time the echo of a BLM parade starts to fade, a cop, somewhere, shoots a another unarmed young black man. You would think they would learn.
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Education is always good to stir the stew of public opinion vigorously. Even when locals were making decisions about their schools, there were disagreements, but the program did not vary depending on which political party won the election. In fact, the schools were functioning quite well until the politicians got involved. I was teaching when the federal government greatly expanded its influence in 1965 with the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Educators were assured that the federal government had no intention of interfering with local control and that the funding would be “unconditional”. But it didn’t take long for schools to get the message: “Do it our way or we’ll cut the funds.” “
The last bone of contention well chewed and unearthed at regular intervals, concerns the teaching of history. Labeled Critical Race Theory (CRT), it is difficult to discuss it because no one really knows how to define it. Those who oppose the teaching of CRT support the mitigation of any past policies or incidents that would negatively impact our heritage. The group is made up mostly of southern states, including, as always, Texas. They argue that schools should instill pride and patriotism in young people. Children, they say, shouldn’t be exposed to anything in the American past that embarrasses them. (For example, my high school history teachers assured us that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery; it was a matter of âstate rights.â Later, I realized that some States wanted the ârightâ to keep slaves. And I was middle-aged before reading Mark Twain’s essay on the âMoro Massacreâ (1906), which really opened my eyes.)
The other group’s position is that students shouldn’t have a whitewashed version of our past. They admire Howard Zinn’s text âA People’s History of the United Statesâ (1980) which has been called âthe story from belowâ. Even though the book has been used in many schools for decades, it remains controversial. (President Trump did not approve of it.)
It’s a family feud. We all have family members who have done things – or are continuing to do things – we wish they hadn’t or weren’t doing it. But we forgive them. They are still family.
There it is.
Email Chuck Avery at [email protected]