Steven Singer: If You’re Afraid Kids Will Learn Racism is Bad, Perhaps Public School is Not For You
Teacher and writer Steven Singer addresses the fears of learning anout racism. Reposted with permission.
Some people are terrified that kids will learn about racism.
Especially white people.
Especially that white KIDS might learn about it.
How would that affect a white child’s self-esteem, they say.
Imagine learning that racism existed in the United States.
A country founded by white people.
(Taken from brown people.
Made largely profitable by the enslavement of black people.)
Wouldn’t that make white kids feel bad?
It’s a strange question.
First of all, wouldn’t it make the black and brown kids feel worse than the white kids?
After all, it was their ancestors who were brutalized and subjugated.
Second of all, what does history have to do with your feelings?
This isn’t aroma therapy or yoga. It’s the past.
We never worry about how learning any other subject will impact a student’s emotional states.
It makes me wonder about all the sentiments pedagogues ignore when designing curriculum.
Does learning to read harm a happy illiterate’s self-respect?
Does learning science make a know-it-all feel less confident?
How does learning fractions dispel a person’s sense of the oneness of being?
No. We never even stop to consider such things.
We don’t bother with emotions or feelings. We just fuss over whether it’s true.
Moreover, how would one even teach American history without talking about racism?
This is the United States – a country that built much of its economy on the backs of black people kidnapped from their homes across the sea and then bought and sold here as property.
Not only that but the very land we stand on was once the domain of dark-skinned indigenous people.
People who were tricked, coerced and killed if they did not give up this land – if they did not move on to ever shrinking corners of the continent until they were almost all dead, assimilated or stashed away on reservations.
What would it do to a white child to learn all this?
Provide an accurate account of events, I suppose.
These people terrified that children will learn about racism – I don’t think it’s facts that they’re trying to deny.
I mean I’m sure they would certainly like to gloss over the ugliest atrocities committed by their ancestors, but they don’t really seem to dispute the story of conquest that makes up our founding. It’s more the way the facts are being presented.
History is written by the winners and these white people won.
That’s not what they want to hide.
It’s the TONE in which the story is told.
If we talked about the ingenuity of white people in colonizing these others, they might find that tolerable.
If we talked about how great the white people were and how bad the brown and black people were, that might be acceptable.
Even if we spun a tall tale about how subjugating these others was really in their best interests in the long run, that would be okay.
After all, that’s what they do in many private and parochial schools.
They use textbooks that frame the history of our country just like that – books from The American Christian Education group, the A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press textbooks. A Beka publishers, in particular, report that about 9,000 schools nationwide purchase their textbooks.
So it’s not the story, it’s the way it’s told.
We can’t focus on the victims.
We can’t humanize them by looking at things from their point of view.
We can’t empathize or admit wrongdoing in any way.
In fact, that’s the problem, they say, with public schools.
That’s what they object to.
Public schools teach what it was like to live as an enslaved person. How you could be beaten and murdered with no cause. How you had no rights to anything. How your own children were likewise doomed to a life of servitude and could even be taken away from you never to be seen again.
And not just that but they’re teaching about Jim Crow. They’re teaching about how even after slavery, black people’s rights were almost nonexistent. How they were denied an education, kept in menial jobs, red-lined into ghettos, and often lynched without the slightest provocation.
When children hear about all that, they start to get ideas.
Even the white kids.
It’s not just the history of racism these children are learning, but they’re starting to think that racism is WRONG.
And that’s a problem because it has an impact on how we view the modern world today.
Because there are still black and brown people in the United States.
They make up about 40% of the population and still protest the way they’re treated.
They say it’s harder to get well-paying jobs than whites with the same education and experience. They say their neighborhoods and schools are segregated. They say their right to vote is being suppressed. They say they’re incarcerated at greater rates even though they don’t commit more crimes. They say they’re being killed by police at greater rates even though they aren’t more violent.
And the facts back them up!
So if we teach the history of racism, how do we justify saying that it ever ended?
How do we not admit that it merely evolved into the status quo?
That’s really the issue.
Not the past but the present.
It’s not the racism of the antebellum South or even the pre-civil rights period North of the Mason-Dixon line.
It’s the everyday racism of today that they want to ignore.
It’s voter ID laws spreading across the country.
It’s military style policing, especially in neighborhoods housing mostly people of color.
It’s providing less education funding to schools serving mostly brown and black students than those serving mostly white kids.
The people complaining about teaching the history of racism don’t want to have to do anything about all that.
They want to ensure that the extra rights and privileges given to people like them don’t come to an end. Especially as more black and brown people are born and white skin becomes less common.
This is not about educational transparency.
It’s not about history, truth or pedagogy.
It’s about indoctrination.
They want to ensure that white kids ARE indoctrinated into the world view of their parents – a world of white nationalism.
We can do two things about this.
One, we can give in to them and water down the public school curriculum until it contains nothing of any importance about our history of racial subjugation and white hegemony.
Two, we can ignore them and teach the truth.
The way I see it, the second is our only real option.
There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious is representation.
Everyone doesn’t want to whitewash our history. Most people want us to actually teach the facts.
Some of these people even have white skin.
Moreover, public schools serve a large population of students of color. They certainly don’t want to be denied an accurate record of how we got to this time and place.
Public schools serve the public, and these history censors are a small minority of the whole.
Moreover, even if we gave in to them, it wouldn’t be enough.
At their best, public schools don’t actively inculcate kids. We don’t tell students what to think. We tell them the facts and then extort them TO think.
The conclusions are all up to them.
Even if we did as these people want, it would still be up to their kids to make the same twisted conclusions as their parents. They don’t just want us to refrain from pointing in any given direction, but to stop providing counter examples and facts so their kids can’t come to an educated decision.
And that is unacceptable.
As a public school system, it is our responsibility to provide those facts.
We must provide children with the truth about what came before them. We must show them how things were and what injustices occurred.
We must even point out how the inequalities of the past lead to the wrongs of today.
What kids make of all this is up to them.
If after knowing the truth, they still decide that today’s racist practices are acceptable, that is their right.
But we cannot hide the reality from them.
If that is objectionable to some people, then perhaps public school is not for them.
Perhaps a system of education where truth is considered a human right is not what they’re looking for.
In that case, there are plenty of private and parochial schools that will indoctrinate their children into whatever shape they’d like.
That’s where they’ll probably send them anyway.
And public schools are foolish to try and court the kinds of people with value systems antithetical to them.
If you want to abolish public schools, if you don’t share the community values of truth and independent thinking, perhaps public school is not for you.