During my years in school the American history textbooks I studied portrayed American leaders as heroic and American culture as ideal. This was indeed the history of old white men. It was very simple and boring. We memorized dates and events. There were few controversies. According to our history textbooks America’s standing in the world was that of a knight in shining armor.
When I was a senior in high school, I was an ambitious, competitive, overachieving student who ranked in the bottom of the top division. (I love to throw that in!) Studying English literature and writing were my passions. American history was a required course for us college bound students. Because of a course scheduling complication, I was assigned to an American history class with two friends from Division one and 25 students from lower divisions. The teacher was known as the “Duster” from his habit of tossing the chalk board eraser at the heads of students who were not paying attention. He was easy going and likeable. This class looked to be easy sailing.
The first day of class the teacher handed out our textbook. It was a 3-inch-thick book bound in red cloth. The print was small; the pages were thin. Surely this was a mistake. The book was an incongruous choice for this level class. This was not going to be an easy A class for us.
The teacher explained that the book was intended for college freshmen. Furthermore, he said we would discover what our country’s history really was. America was not perfect. What a shock. Our leaders and our people had made mistakes. Our leaders debated each other strenuously. There were many controversies where honest intelligent leaders on both sides made valid points. Some were dedicated to the American ideal and some were not.
He was right. What a revelation it was to learn the truth. This was a fascinating and compelling class. Our teacher did not teach to the lowest denominator among us. He showed us all the respect he had for our collective intelligence by introducing us to the real American history, warts and all.
Although I went on to college still convinced that I was a natural English major (I did enjoy my classes), I later went all in for a master’s degree in American history. My professors were challenging. I was even more enthralled with the rich, tumultuous history of our country. This was every bit as dramatic and captivating to me as any works of fiction I had studied.
Patriotism is born of appreciating the best and worst moments of our history. My high school history teacher as well as later college professors made American history come alive to me in all its human reality. They taught me how to think critically, how to analyze and look at all sides to discern the truth.
I learned that we all bring our own sets of bias to the conversation but knowing that we can still weigh the facts and the issues and come to reasonable conclusions in a fair-minded way. As Tim Scott said, we can pursue “common sense and common ground.”
That is my story. What will your children’s stories be? Would you rather have your children experience the awakening I had to American history, or would you rather have them told to believe the false, damaging “facts” set forth in books like the 1619 project, which have been refuted by Phillip W. Magness in his book, the 1619 project, a critique and Professor Tom Woodward in his book 1776? Or maybe you want them to be told that they are either victims or oppressors as the proponents of Critical Race Theory teach? There is no doubt that our country has racial problems and that there are still people who treat those of different races from their own reprehensively. However, it is not right to tell children what to think, when we can teach them how to think. We can introduce them in age-appropriate ways both the American history we can be proud of and the times that our nation has failed to live up to its ideals. We can have an open and honest discussion and include in it our great hope and confidence in our children that they and their generation will achieve the improvements for all Americans that our generation has not yet accomplished.