Angry Parents About History Classes Need To Produce Their Syllabus

There are many discussions in school districts around the nation as to what is the proper way to teach history, along with what to teach regarding our nation’s original sin and its consequences.  Instead of allowing historical research to drive teaching and classroom instruction, there are some parents who seem able, in their own minds, to create the class syllabus and reading sources for students.  It goes without saying, as long-time readers of this page well know, I do not cotton to the idea of catering to the manufactured partisan culture war outrage about the teaching of the ugly side of our national story. 

I have listened and read during the past couple of years complaints lodged by some parents around the nation about their children being ‘confused’ and somehow ‘harmed’ as a result of teaching history accurately. I have often desired the chance to converse with those parents about how they might compose classroom teaching.  For example, how might they describe or teach the changes in rhetoric and laws after equality started to be a factor in our nation following white men of all classes having suffrage (roughly 1820)? It is no small topic, to be sure, and has broad offshoots, but since some parents are sure history is not being correctly taught and their children somehow feel ‘bad’ as a result I continue to be seriously curious as to their ideas for a classroom syllabus.

We start to see in essays, newspapers, and political rhetoric at state constitutional conventions, following the time when all white men attained suffrage that the use of language for women, Blacks, and Indians took on a harsher tone.  How might the disturbed parents of the 21st century instruct a classroom about white males’ constructed laws that were aimed to prevent others from achieving the same rights? How does one teach about the argument strongly espoused at the time by white males that nature and God placed limits on political equality?

How, for instance, would parents teach the reason for whites deciding in the first decades of the 1800s to disallow free Blacks from voting.  I noted this week that it was the mid-1830s when both Tennessee and North Carolina deprived the voting right of free Black men.  How might parents place in a classroom discussion Thomas Jefferson’s famed words in the Declaration of Independence with the slaveholding mentality who argued Blacks were created for servitude?

During the pandemic, I heard the term “master race democracy” on PBS’ Amanpour and it resonated with me as it fits as an umbrella over the period leading up to the Civil War. One racial group used the political and social levers to reign over another. I have never let the North off easy in this regard for the actions of pols and citizens alike were far, far less than ideal when dealing with Blacks, Indians, and then Hispanic peoples during the Mexican War period.  How does the story of our history unfold in a classroom without going deep into the historically accurate narrative that shows race and sex were major factors in our nation, with white men doing all they could to create and maintain power over all others? As we look at these questions it needs to be understood that is precisely what these parents are doing now with their local tantrums concerning teachers correctly and fully teaching history in the classrooms.

We must teach history completely to students in our public schools. The good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly. History matters.

2 thoughts on “Angry Parents About History Classes Need To Produce Their Syllabus

  1. Julia Norton, Professor Emeritus, Department of Statistics and Biostatistics CSUEB

    Totally true. As a FROSH high school student in the spring of 1963 in second term Latin of all places, some of the students were baiting Ms. Robertson about desegregation. Her response wakened something in me. She said roughly “I don’t know about you, but I am ashamed that 40% of the people in our city (Birmingham, Alabama) can’t vote.” My mind went “What? I was taught one man one vote ” (ignoring the obvious and believing, also as I was taught that man stood for all people.) I used this example in formulating an example about creating fair juries in every introductory statistics class that I ever taught during my career (roughly 200 classes over 40 years. One must be able to think, read, write, and calculate to survive, but one must also study history with curiosity to have empathy with your fellow man.

  2. Thank you for being a part of the education system in the nation, and also for caring about history and writing “one must also study history with curiosity”…a phrase that resonates strongly in this home.

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