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Students Are Caught in the Crossfire of US History Wars (Washington Examiner) June 7, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

Even as we draw down troops from lengthy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we are caught up in cyberwarfare, apparently with the Russians, everywhere from our meat processing plants to our oil pipelines and healthcare systems. In domestic policy, we are still fighting a war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, not to mention wars on crime, drugs, terrorism, and, yes, even obesity and cancer, all declared by later presidents.

Now, our country is in a history war. It is a civil war, against one another, over some of the same issues on which the Union and the Confederacy battled to the death over 150 years ago. At one level, it is a battle of ideas — which ideas will be taught in classrooms and textbooks of America’s schools. Should we begin teaching that the founding of America dates not from the revolution in 1776 and the Constitution in 1787 but from the arrival of slaves in 1619, as the New York Times’s 1619 Project proposes? Must critical race theory, the idea that America has been and still is a racist nation, now be central to U.S. history (and even math) curricula?

At another level, this has become a war in state legislatures. Several states are considering and passing bills banning the teaching of the 1619 Project and of critical race theory in their schools. It looks like the old arcade game whack-a-mole as evil curricular ideas pop up and are slammed down one at a time in legislative warfare.

The history wars are also teaching students the wrong lessons. For one thing, the history warriors implicitly claim history is either black or white; it’s all one way or all the other. It isn’t enough for the 1619 Project to say that slavery prior to the establishment of the nation is important and should be studied. No, the 1619 Project, by its own terms, seeks to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery … at the very center of our national narrative.” It seeks not to add to 1776 and 1787 but to replace them with a new starting point in our nation’s history. The opponents are equally strident, claiming the project should not be taught at all.

Critical race theory is similarly all or nothing in its approach. It isn’t just that racism is a problem, but what must be taught is that the entire system is racist and that this affects everything. Black or white. All or nothing.

What students need is not more wars and attempts to indoctrinate them. They need a toolkit to understand history and reach their own conclusions. In that toolkit, they need a few shades of gray, not just black and white. They need to understand that there are both successes and failures in our history, that even heroes have their flaws. Also in their toolkit, they need eyeglasses to see the time they are studying, not just their 21st-century social justice lenses. They need to appreciate what the founders called “moderation,” the ability to see nuances and reason through them.

In the end, the history wars are not primarily about the students, as education should be. Rather, they are about adults carrying out political warfare on the battleground of their children’s education. Shame on them for making students the injured bystanders in their political wars.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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