History. Seven letters that, when combined, are supposed to convey the story of humanity. We are taught at an early age that history is important because our nation is the shining light of human evolution. We, the United States, are the beacon of freedom—a city on a hill—calling out to the world to embrace the important values of democracy and equality.
The reality has and continues to be something far different. The reality is that our nation’s history has always been washed clean of any inconvenient truths that might shine light on the realities of what our nation has been. At best, our nation was one that had potentially powerful goals that could be reached if we collectively rejected the most nefarious sides of human nature that thrive on greed, hate, and power.
Children have been taught for decades that we are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Once again, amazing and powerful words that, if taken literally, could lead us to be the nation so many Americans think we are.
In practice, we are a nation that has never lived up to the promise of these words. We have a history in which we enslaved humans for profit and, at the same time, counted them as ⅗ a person to ensure the political power of those who owned the slaves. We have fought the Civil War, which clearly showed not everyone in our nation’s history believed we were indivisible—and seem today to be showing that those divisions never truly went away. The sanitized version of our nation’s history is so ingrained in the minds of large parts of our population that when you point out the truth, they are unable to accept that reality and flood school board meetings with open disdain and hate for those whose American experience has never been a dream.
The recent battles over “The 1619 Project,” critical race theory (CRT), books in libraries, and any reference to teaching the truth about our nation have demonstrated just how important the teaching of history is in our nation. Those who are just now facing uncomfortable truths—they have a family history that directly connects them to some of the most evil acts mankind has committed against one another—are honestly unable to accept that burden. Instead, they strike out at anything and everything they see as connected to that history. They refuse to take a long, hard look in the mirror with their children and explain exactly what America has done—and continues to do—to others in the name of democracy.
Recently, the Zinn Education Project released an important report Erasing The Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail To Teach The Truth About Reconstruction. This groundbreaking report written by Ana Rosado, Gideon Cohn-Postar, and Mimi Eisen explains the current failure of our nation’s schools to properly teach and engage students on this crucial part of American history.
In their opening, the authors share why the teaching of Reconstruction is so important:
When reading these two paragraphs it is clear that we face many of the same challenges today. We see the launch of a white supremacist counterrevolution that has led to new laws to restrict voting rights and the ongoing fight to pass laws that restrict what truths and facts are taught to students in our schools.
The authors of the report go into detail with recommendations and solutions to address this lack of historical accuracy in teaching about the Reconstruction period. They recommend that states and school districts move beyond the teaching of basic historical facts and offer students with compelling engagements to understand the struggles of Black Americans to achieve freedom and equality in our nation. It also pushes for states to have students consider how the enduring legacies of Reconstruction connect to the present day.
The reality is that 32 states, both North and South, have had bills introduced that limit how teachers can teach about issues that involve racism, sexism, and any issue of historical inequality in our nation. Thirteen states, many of which made up the Confederacy, have actually passed them into law. Teachers, administrators, librarians, school board members, parents, and students are rightfully scared of what these laws will mean in the classroom.
It is not lost on members of Generation Z that, as America’s first majority minority generation, these attacks will deny us the right to properly understand our own history and reflect on how that history is directly connected to the issues we face today. Policymakers and elected officials should understand that although they may be successful in these new attempts to hide the truth of our nation, the backlash over time by members of Generation Z and Generation Alpha will be ferocious.
What these leaders of the modern white supremacist counterrevolution fail to fully embrace, and what may be symbolic of how our schools have failed our nation for generations, is the demographic wave that is quickly flooding our nation will be driven by a collective of people who have experienced in their most formative years what the realities of these attacks have meant for us directly.
- We have watched our principals be attacked and fired for simply standing up for equality.
- We have watched school board members face threats and open hostility in meetings.
- We have watched as many of our favorite books have been forcibly removed from our classrooms and libraries.
What we have learned is that this naked attempt to reconsolidate power into the hands of an outdated and hateful group of people was done to purposely harm us and our future.
As we move forward, the living history lesson we are learning is to never take for granted the importance of having elected leaders at all levels of government who will once and for all reject the ongoing efforts of a defeated ideology to restrict the truth and ensure that our nation’s history is truthfully taught in our schools. These hate-driven actions today are likely to unleash a wave of reconstruction in our education system and school curriculum in the next few decades that will not only address the historical wrongs in key subjects like history, but also ensure that those changes will also tell the most recent story of those who attempted to deny the truth and how they were finally defeated once and for all.