On the mend from having a back tooth pulled rather than getting a root canal. Now maybe my face will start looking the same on both sides. Yeah, day after shooting in Chicago – what a difference a day makes! Healing is going well, hoping I don’t get addicted to codeine! Here’s a treat for today. I updated one of my previous history articles. Let’s call this one
WHOSE HISTORY IS IT?
We’ve all heard of the outrage againt teaching the Critical Race Theory (CRT). I personally have no problem with this particular idea IF it is taught to balance what has been called “patriotic history.”. U.S. history has been taught to show itself in a good light to make us good citizens; it’s the reason public schools were created. I can see blending CRT into a seamless history narrative to show what our country was really like. This is a nation of immigration, of pushing aside native Indians for the land, of importing blacks to work the huge plantations of crops, of throwing off the British yoke of economic oppression for the need to conquer the entire country; all of these things need to be taught in a single seamless approach.
In Madison’s Ithmus, a free quality paper they publish monthly, I read something that made me want to look further into what happened to standardized education in this country. I agreed long ago that history needs to be taught with an objective approach, but today’s history seems to be further segmented. Ruth Coniff, author of “The Unraveling of public education in Wisconsin,” talks about a tribal college in Hayward helping to launch a conservative charter school further south in Oconomowoc — called the Lake Country Classical Academy. This school has a “1776 curriculum,” Trump’s answer to CRT, and she referred to this revelation as shining “a light on the unraveling of public education in Wisconsin.”
More specifically, this is the unraveling of our historic heritage.
The problem may be one of the unregulated education of charter schools. If you saw the most recent Abbot Elementary episode, they took on charter schools. I hope they do more of that. We had a new one open up here in Beloit, called “The Lincoln Academy,” which I’ll look at further in a moment.
But to get more into what has outraged me here into noting the danger of this unraveling of public education, from the viewpoint of these Ojibwe college authorities: “The U.S. government has just shredded Ojibwe knowledge and indigenous knowledge. So for me, the big thing is educational sovereignty. Parents have the right to educate their kids the way they see fit.”
Yes, they do. At home.
If we have a proper educational system, all history being taught would be objective ad complete, summarizing the experiences of all the people who’ve lived it, and stimulating the children into looking at their specific interests. But have we ever had that?
I came to my history master’s degree late in life; in 2006 I was 53 years old. In high school history was my most dreaded subject. Learning dates and names was never my strong suit; still isn’t. Did I at that time believe I was being patrioticlly indoctrinated? Perhaps. I had the misfortune of communicating with that history teacher after getting my master’s and learned he was a Trump supporter, too, as are many in my high school graduating class. I have never been one to support white supremacy, not ever, though I have voted Republican in the past (not since Reagan’s first term, though). And when I attended my first college history class, just for fun, with a very liberal history professor while going for my BA in communications, I was both shocked and delighted, and switched my major.
While going for my BA in Green Bay, I discovered the horrors of Columbus and began to promote changing Columbus Day to Diversity Day. I still remember my conservative professor, who said to me we shouldn’t try to change history. I didn’t want to change it, I replied. I just want the truth to be known.
Why can’t kids learn real history? Because they might come to hate the U.S.? I didn’t. Teachers need to have history sensitivity training, I think, to teach that attitude of the history players is what created those events, and how we’re all human. Yes, even Lincoln. Even Lincoln was racist in his time.
“Right to educate how we see fit.” Does that pertain to school systems? It shouldn’t. Because it’s part of what further divides this country into camps. Red states teach opposite history to blue states. So how can we ever get over the Civil War?
Coniff spoke from a Wisconsin view. She said that in 2011 Wisconsin’s legislature (under a GOP governor) cut per pupil spending by $554 across the state. Per pupil. That’s a significant amount. The T.V. series “Abbott Elementary” is winning all kinds of awards, portraying the struggles of a black public school in the Philadelphia area. You come to see those teachers as heroes for sticking with the challenges. Even Democratic Governor Evers has had no luck raising the budget of spending on schools with his Republican legislature; well, you have to blame them as Evers was Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction. But the state continues to funnel money into these charter schools.
The situation is complex, we can telling from looking at Coniff’s list of what entities can authorize charter schools: UW’s Office of Educational Opportunity, Milwaukee’s common council, the chancellors of UW System schools, technical college district boards, the Waukesha county executive, and the state’s two tribal colleges — The College of the Menominee Nation and the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College. Imagine every state having different standards for how kids can or should be educated, and you’ll know that a lot of this choice is racially biased.
The one thing I know about history is that there are two (or more) sides to every story. That’s the problem with parental choice. What side do they want for their kids? If it’s not objective history, it will only further divide us as people trying to live in a single culture. That’s almost a laugh, isn’t it? A single culture here in the U.S.?
I came up against this problem first hand when I attended the American Historical Association’s convention in January. At a panel on controversial history, I did not hear about book banning or the dangers of teaching Mark Twain. All they talked about was how limited they were by state standards of what CAN be taught, and how these standards are different in every state.
But that’s a problem with history. Because states are choosing what history they want to see taught. There are no federal standards, and there should be. With an educator as First Lady, it’s the perfect thing for her to work on.
If a charter school is authorized by any of those entities, then they qualify for a grant from the state. To be clear, the one in Oconomowoc is a tribal-related entity, but it does not just serve tribal members. This academy’s founder, Kristina Vourax, according to Coniff, noted, “We have a mixture of all backgrounds.” The burden on the city where these kids come from to fund the school is astronomical, too. What does this do to the funding for other schools in the area?
Coniff ends her article with a bit of a whimper. “That cost includes our shared interest in maintaining high-quality public schools for all Wisconsin children.” Well, yes it does. But what about solutions? Are there any? I’m suspecting that the normal subjects of reading and writing, and learning math to be able to perform in society are still being taught. Not a lot of worry there about interpretation. The most divisive subject is history. That’s what states get to interpret at their pleasure. Don’t like being on the losing side of the Civil War? Let’s rewrite that a little.
Let’s look at the Lincoln Academy here in Beloit. I went to this charter school’s website and learn they call themselves a “public charter.” Here’s what I found about that designation:
A public charter school is a school that’s publicly funded, free to attend, and run by independent contracts. Often, people will confuse public charter schools with private schools, but they are quite different in terms of funding, accessibility, and structure. Whereas public charters are free for students to attend, private schools are tuition-based and aren’t regulated by the government. Private schools also tend to have looser regulatory standards, whereas public charters need to uphold an agreed-upon charter that’s set up by a board. Public charter schools are also different from traditional public schools. Contrary to some myths, the biggest difference between the two isn’t that they’re regulated; it’s how they’re regulated. Traditional public schools follow a strict set of guidelines that are set by the school district. Public charter schools still need to follow federal laws and regulations, but they’re not tied to a district school board. Instead, they follow guidelines that are set up by a separate, independent board.
Then I took a look at the curriculum, K through high school, and could not find a single history class anywhere. How is not teaching history a solution?
Be assured that if objective history is not being taught at any grade level, people will pick and choose what to believe about our nation’s history. Here’s a good comment about how history is being taught today, and it appears it hasn’t changed in 50 years:
Currently, most students learn history as a set narrative—a process that reinforces the mistaken idea that the past can be synthesized into a single, standardized chronicle of several hundred pages. This teaching pretends that there is a uniform collective story, which is akin to saying everyone remembers events the same.
Okay, this article was dated 2015, but that’s not all that long ago. According to the AHA, there’s nothing uniform about our history, and if we’re not learning the same things, then we’re all being taught a false narrative.
I tried to sell an article on political correctness once, where I make the point that history teachers need better training so they know how to teach history. Instead of banning Mark Twain from the classroom, figure out how to explain the racism in our history, which can have a positive impact on students, especially with the explanation about how we’re all better people for understanding that we’re all human. Whoopie Goldberg come out recently in favor of keeping the dirt in history, because that’s every bit as important to learn and to understand.
“We went to see Piano Lesson, the play by August Wilson. The n-word is used there like every other sentence and it should make us feel uncomfortable, but it is what it is. It was what it was and we cannot erase history,” she said.
History is a humanities issue, after all. We ban what we don’t want to face, what makes us uncomfortable, or can show us in a negative light. We need to see that negative light throughout our history to understand our country today.
One problem noted was that “When historians begin to explain and interpret facts and events, they are using their personal judgments and opinions.” If they are trained properly, they will learn how to interpret those events using only the attitudes of those who lived and created those events, not their own.
No one should interpret the past with today’s viewpoints. Use the attitude of the people who lived it. My brother used to have Lincoln on a pedestal as a man who could never do anything wrong. He argued against everything I demonstrated that was real about him. But when he found someone else who agreed with me, he came around. (No one believes their sister, right?)
No, it’s not possible to teach everything about every immigration pattern or all of indigenous pre-history. But if history teachers are taught to be objective, it will be amazing what they can teach. Yes, Lincoln was racist. He didn’t think blacks and whites could learn to live and work together. Before the war ended, he came to see things differently. We can all change, all it takes is living and learning the same things together. As one country. If teachers are allowed to show our history as it really was, all warts and blemishes, then the true immigration and true native indigenous histories will be told. It has to. Because that’s what this country really is — filled with stories of people who learn by being together.
Sources in addition to Ithmus (first researched in 2022):
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