Whatever the cause may be, the fact is most of the teachers in the US are white. (Most of them are female, too, but let’s focus on the color of their skin.) That means they can disavow the violence in Charlottesville last weekend and feel good that the Civil War, the Old South, and the right to own black slaves are things of the past, no more a part of their lives than a news story on these pages.
The reality for so many Americans is that our understanding of “history” is far from complete. We understand history to be a study of past events, but we also assume “past” means “now non-existent.”
Well, we may not have actual slavery anymore, but for many blacks, especially in southern states but really everywhere, the Civil War is still in their face through policies that affect our lives today. Some of these policies are front and center in our history, government, and other social studies curricula, but others aren’t. What worries me is the ability of teachers, most of whom are white, to internalize the reality of these topics enough to teach students, some of whom are black, about them and their role in our lives today.
Lindy West, author of Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman, writes an op-ed in the New York Times that suggests many politicians, specifically President Donald Trump, have shown themselves to be a whites-only, fake-Christian-evangelizing, Nazi-worshiping bunch, and simply issuing statements repudiating white supremacy isn’t going to mitigate that designation in any way. She may be right, for a lot of what we hear as we read the news is just talk.
Instead of just denouncing the Nazis and white supremacy—which, quite frankly, make easy targets as low-hanging fruit—she wants us to reach higher and go after some of those longstanding policies that have led the country to the point of throwing years of work, on the part of good teachers, out the window.
- voter-ID laws
- police brutality
- mass incarceration
- private prisons
- the war on drugs
- slavery reparations
- gun control obstructionism
- the Muslim ban (who’s next?)
- the wall
- anti-abortion legislation
- abstinence-only education
- charter schools
- environmental deregulation
- health care
So while white supremacy and Nazism are front and center now, out in the open, and totally in our face after the president said there were good people among the Nazi marchers, keep some of these other remnants of Reconstruction in mind as you teach the curriculum. Alex Fields, the 20-year-old Ohio resident who was arrested for murder in connection with the mowing down of a counterprotester in Charlottesville, showed a few warning signs in his social studies classes.
Social studies teacher Derek Weimer, who taught Mr Fields when he was a junior and senior at a high school in Union, Kentucky, told CNN Mr Fields had “outlandish, very radical beliefs,” according to a CNN wire report. “He really bought into this white supremacist thing. He was very big into Nazism. He really had a fondness for Adolf Hitler. … Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy towards Nazism, that idolization of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy. It would start to creep out.”
— EdWeek Teacher (@EdWeekTeacher) August 14, 2017