Peter Smagorinsky: Georgia schools are so white they alienate students of color
Retired educator Peter Smagorinsky wrote a guest column for Maureen Downey’s blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reflecting on education, growing up segregated, and race in Georgia.
The AJC Get Schooled blog has recently published essays by Atlanta-area high school students in which they provide their perspective on the state of education. These smart young adults have done something their teachers are prohibited from doing: They are speaking out against the injustices they have experienced in Georgia schools, injustices denied by the adults who are trying to influence schools to be silent on matters of racism.
I was once a white kid in school, and for much of my education, we were legally segregated from Black kids. We studied a version of history that I think many people would love to see restored. Here is an excerpt from a Virginia history textbook from my schoolboy days in the 1950s and 1960s:
“Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked. … They were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. … The Negroes remained loyal to their white mistresses even after President Lincoln promised in his Emancipation Proclamation that the slaves would be freed.”
When you study this sort of thing in school, when it’s written in a history book and impressed on you by your teacher, such myths tend to become ingrained in the mind as the truth. This version of history then becomes naturalized as the established narrative of the past. Challenging it is often called “revisionist history.”
Yet, it was revisionist itself, a post hoc narrative designed to cover up the truth. It was the rare occasion when the losers wrote history. It remains the story that stands, that is being challenged, and that is now defended with more furious arguments about what to do with history in schools.