We don’t think one should interpret the old, oft-paraphrased warning that those who don’t learn history are condemned to repeat it, literally. Instead, the real reason we need to learn the full history of the U.S. and the world is so that we have a more complete understanding of how we got here, both the good and the bad. This is something Donald Trump really doesn’t get as he makes the move to “restore patriotic education to our schools” and calls a curriculum that teaches about the dark past of racism, slavery and white supremacy “child abuse.”
In a speech at the National Archives on Thursday, Trump read, slowly and deliberately from a teleprompter, a takedown of any kind of history lessons that don’t exalt the U.S. in every way. He slammed the idea of teaching that, yes, there’s standard history of what the rich white colonists did, but also that there was much else going on for the enslaved and working-class people, as well as the Native Americans, for the past several hundred years.
“Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history,” he said, repeating a right-wing theory that liberal history teachers hand out The People’s History of the United States instead of traditional textbooks. (Maybe some do so as supplements, but not instead of the curriculum.)
“The left has warped, distorted, and defiled the American story with deceptions, falsehoods, and lies,” Trump continued. “There is no better example than the New York Times’ totally discredited 1619 Project. This project rewrites American history to teach our children that we were founded on the principle of oppression, not freedom.”
What Trump calls "patriotic education" is racist education.
— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) September 18, 2020
Listen, there have been plenty of critics of the way the 1619 Project’s writers and editors went a little far when it came to its characterization of the Revolutionary War as a war based on maintaining slavery. But no one can argue about, say, the fact that 20 percent of the population during that war were enslaved, and thus didn’t gain that great freedom we celebrate on July 4.
What the 1619 Project aims to do, particularly now that it has become a curriculum supplement for teachers, is to round out the standard history and tell the complete story. That complete story is necessary now (more than ever, as they say) as we try to sort out how more than 150 years after the end of slavery, Black Americans still don’t have the same access to wealth and opportunity as this country purports to give everyone. Without a full history, we don’t have full understanding of what went wrong, and thus we can’t fix the problem.
Trump also attacked other iterations of race theory.
“A perfect example of critical race theory was recently published by the Smithsonian Institution,” he said. He was referring to a graphic on the website of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture that sought to explain how the values of white families became the dominant norms of our culture. These include “rugged individualism,” the nuclear family with men as the breadwinner, European aesthetics, and a “win at all costs” approach to competition. The museum removed the graphic after much uproar from conservative critics.
“Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words,” Trump said.
So, first of all, that graphic was not meant for children. Second of all, do you know what “child abuse” is, person who put immigrant children in cages? Third, true historians understand that history isn’t one story written in stone. It is multiple texts and stories pulled together to paint a larger picture of the past, and even younger children can learn to look at it this way.
As a response, Trump wants to promote his idea of patriotic education and defund any school systems that do otherwise.
We would just like to take this time to say that real patriotism isn’t about blindly ignoring the flaws of this country. It is about believing that this country has the ability to continue to grow and change and fulfill its promise to everyone eventually. That can only happen if we don’t pretend that everyone is equal right now. That can only happen, as Sesame Street‘s Sonia Manzano told SheKnows recently, if we keep educating new generations about the realities of the world.
If you want to do your part to educate your children about a complete history of this country, here are a few places to start:
The 1619 Project Curriculum (from the Pulitzer Center)
Tolerance.org (from the Southern Poverty Law Center
Kids of all ages and races will enjoy these books starring boys of color.