As battle rages over critical race theory, schools fail to teach reconstruction – Lowell Sun

As Georgia students gathered at the Capitol last Friday to protest legislation that would govern how race is taught in schools, an interesting email arrived in my inbox.

The writer, whose identity I will conceal, was responding to one of my past columns on the wealth gap. I won’t repeat his vitriol, but in summary he suggested that black Americans were alone in their quest for civil rights.

Asian Americans, Native Americans and Jews do not “protest that they are owed reparations” or “say they have been oppressed or offended by statues,” he wrote.

None of this is true.

All the groups he mentioned demanded reparations. All said they were oppressed. All were offended by certain statues. For those who didn’t learn this in school, countless resources exist to expand their knowledge.

Normally, I wouldn’t waste time writing about these emails, but after seeing students outside the Capitol, I felt like I’d be failing future generations if I didn’t write ( yet) about who holds the story of our country’s evolution.

The misinformed person who wrote this email is an example of what can happen if state lawmakers pass a bill that, among other things, would ban teachers from teaching “dividing concepts.”

Here’s a concept that shouldn’t divide anyone: it’s hard to have a productive discourse on freedom and justice in this country if we don’t first master the basic truths.

Tellingly, in 45 of 50 states and the District of Columbia, social studies standards for teaching K-12 reconstruction are “partial” or “non-existent,” according to a January report. Zinn Education Project, a nonprofit organization that supports history education in middle and high school classrooms nationwide.

This means that most students (and adults) in this country have little or no understanding of one of the most critical times in our country’s history – the period from 1865 to 1877, when millions of former slaves have made political, social and economic progress that has been dismantled. and later obscured by white supremacists.

“For decades people have been taught this racist version of Reconstruction, which blames the so-called faults of the Reconstruction government on black people and the power they gained in the South during this time,” said Adam Sanchez, Zinn Education Project spokesperson. and a high school teacher in Philadelphia.

But even the most enlightened teachings of reconstruction can take a top-down view, he said in our recent phone conversation. “It really is a story that takes away the massive struggles led by black people uniting with poor white people in the South to fight for another kind of government, public education, the redistribution of wealth, the right to vote – all of these questions that are still very relevant today,” Sanchez said.

State-by-state analysis of the Zinn Report found that Georgian standards of Reconstruction education were “partial” and content was “inferior”. One standard asks students to compare and contrast the goals and results of agencies like the Freedmen’s Bureau with white supremacist terrorist groups, as if the people and causes of those agencies share the same moral legitimacy, the students said. authors of the report.

“If you look at the standards for reconstruction in Georgia, it’s almost as if they were written in the 1990s,” said Sally Stanhope, a history teacher at Chamblee High School.

Stanhope told me that when she was in school she had heard of scalawags and carpetbaggers – pejorative terms coined by Lost Cause historians – but never learned that these people fought. for greater economic and political equality.

“Two decades later, the standards still allow teachers to obscure the contingency of the times, resulting in a population that understands the perpetuation of white supremacy as the only possible path,” Stanhope said.

The irony, she says, is that Georgia had great moments of justice during reconstruction that Georgian students don’t learn from. William Finch, the first black member of the Atlanta City Council, helped create the city’s public school system, although it initially served only white children. It was not until Finch retired from public service that city officials granted black students the opportunity to participate in the system that Finch had fought so hard to establish.

Last year, Stanhope taught his students about the 33 black state legislators who were elected by the Georgian people but expelled from the Georgia General Assembly in 1868 by the previous all-white legislature. She wishes she had also helped her students make the connection between the gerrymandering now taking place in Georgia and the modern equivalent of the expulsion of black lawmakers more than 100 years ago.

But in the current climate, teachers who try to bring real-world connections to Reconstruction-era history fear finding themselves accused of teaching divisive subjects.

“We are facing multiple crises – racism, climate change, the pandemic. These are things that students desperately want to discuss,” Sanchez said. “The idea that we would mark some of these discussions as unsuitable for the classroom is so retrograde. The same people who are pushing these bills…benefit from racist policies, so of course they don’t want people to learn racist history.

You cannot teach reconstruction without teaching racism. And you can’t talk about the inequalities still present in America today without understanding Reconstruction.

Honestly teaching about the Reconstruction era would invite all students to recognize that American progress is not linear and that the ideals we say we believe in are attainable if we can stop viewing “civil rights as a scarce resource” as the said Stanhope, and start working together.

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Sharon D. Cole