Half Past the Month

April 8, 2021

MANY OF THE BEST U.S. historians — David McCullough and Gordon Wood come to mind — have pointed out the flaws in the New York Times “1619 project.” It nonetheless continues to be proposed for inclusion in the K-12 curriculum, a tract that suggests the United States was born with racial inequality and white supremacy as its DNA, and that this genetic marker has not changed. 

A member of our foundation, a teacher, argues that the more accurate and contextualized way to teach the year 1619 is to point out the paradox of that landmark year. In 1619, the Virginia House of Burgesses met for the first time, the first representative assembly in the colonies, a moment that would lead to the movement for independence and the pursuit of full constitutional government. 

Yes, that was also the year the first enslaved Africans were transported to the colonies. But ever since, U.S. history has been the story of expanding rights and liberties to apply to all people regardless of skin color, gender or national origins. 

Told this way, it is an uplifting, hopeful and exceptional story unlike any other. 

Told this way, students understand why immigrants from all over the world strive to come here. 

Told this way, students can understand why their nation is factually and truly exceptional regardless of political view.

Increasingly, it is not told this way. 

Identity Politics takes away the heroes of our past who promoted the freedoms we claim to love. It makes Thomas Jefferson most remembered for his hypocrisy as a slaveowner rather than as the wise wordsmith behind the Declaration of Independence and Virginia Statute for Religious freedom, documents that have inspired freedom revolutions and appreciation for religious liberty of all faiths around the globe. It transforms Andrew Jackson and his Age of Democracy into a period of native American genocide. 

Again, a good historian teaches the whole truth, warts and all, but Identity Politics breeds in young scholars a negative view — yes even a hatred — of their own country.

For example, the whole truth would mean making clear that the 1964 Civil Rights Act stipulates that its prohibitions of discrimination on account of race, color, national origin, etc., apply to all persons or any individual. “The law refused to enact gradations of the rights it conferred on the basis of demographic identity or degree of historical victimization,” argues William Voegeli, author of “Thomas Sowell’s Inconvenient Truths.”

And taken to its full application, Identity Politics infuses today’s English curriculum in choices about literature and in writing assignments. As a result, most K-12 schools, public and private, have abandoned the classic canon. Rather than provide the necessary historical context to teach Mark Twain or Ernest Hemingway, teachers are focusing on contemporary POC (people of color) authors. The rationale is that students need to read books about and written by people who look like they do. 

On the surface, it is a valid point, as all reading lists should include a range of genres, styles and characters to which young people can relate. The result, however, is that many of the required books focus on race and identity — issues that divide rather than unify. 

As an example, our teacher friend asks us to consider in this discussion “The Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline: “This book is highly regarded for both its style and substance,” she says. “It is a dystopian story in which indigenous people are being hunted for their bone marrow. Gripping plot? Absolutely, but one that reenforces the worldview of oppressors versus victims, haters verses hated, and this is standard fare for middle-grade literature.”

Finally, there is an ugly side to this. Last month, I am told that a group of concerned Zionsville Middle School parents gathered in support of a school resource officer suspended for posting a video on his personal Facebook page. The video was of people singing the National Anthem at a Trump rally. The officer later was reportedly dismissed as a result of a separate incident at the school that also violated the administration’s frenetic sense of Identity Politics.

This would seem a great opportunity for Gov. Eric Holcomb’s new cabinet-level Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer to step up, that is, to encourage us to find a way to teach history without engendering disrespect for America’s heritage and embedding hatred for its citizenry.

Somehow, though, I don’t think that was what she was hired to do. — tcl


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