Dan Weeks: Will we teach our children facts or fear?
New Hampshire author Dan Weeks published this op-ed in the Concord Monitor, speaking out against New Hampshire’s gag law forbidding teachers to teach certain divisive subjects. It begins with his attempt to reach a decision when his children asked about Thomas Jefferson.
Should I keep things simple and introduce my kids to the storybook Thomas Jefferson I encountered as a boy? Or should I reveal the darker side of one of America’s most admired Founding Fathers and tell them of a rapist and enslaver whose policies as president paved the way for the removal and even annihilation of countless Native Americans? Would they take a greater interest in a pristine statue or a man?
As the sun was setting over Mts. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison, I told the kids that President Jefferson was a brilliant writer and thinker and inventor who did many good things and also did evil by enslaving human beings with darker skin. We talked again about how there is both good and bad in everyone, as well as in our nation, and how our purpose in life is to do good and stop bad whenever and however we can, with God’s help.
In that moment, I made the fateful decision that my children should know Jefferson and the Founding Fathers as more than merely heroes, but as the complex forces they were in the many-sided story of America.
Then we reached our destination and talk of Jeffersonian ethics gave way to dinner! But I should not have been surprised when, a few days later, my son asked me if his mom had been enslaved? And why, for that matter, had people with darker skin who looked like them been mistreated by people who looked like me, as their children’s books about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King revealed?
As I attempted to assure him that Mama was never in chains and then convey, in simplistic terms, the intergenerational sin of racism not just between individuals but in our systems too, I thought of the dilemma New Hampshire’s teachers now face in the aftermath of the infamous “divisive concepts” law, not to mention a recently-introduced “teacher loyalty” bill.