The teaching of American history in our public school systems is clearly a problem. Between Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project teaching our children that the country was founded on racism and the nearly universal leftist bias of school teachers, our kids don’t stand a chance.
Unless we teach them at home. That’s been well-discussed in conservative news outlets. But the problem is actually a level deeper than that.
We need to teach our kids (and now adults) perspective.
The facts are that the Founders did own slaves. There was slavery. Gays, women, and blacks only recently had their rights codified by federal law. that’s all absolutely true. And I’m fine with people learning and understanding that. In fact, you can’t truly appreciate that the United States was one of the first countries to outlaw slavery until you know the history of it.
But what’s missing is the perspective of the times. We simply do not impress upon our students enough (or at all) what was normal for the people of the day.
People in 2020 are looking at history through the lens of now. They mistakenly assume that people who did things that are reprehensible now were seen as reprehensible then. That’s simply not the case.
While there were national arguments about abolishing slavery, very few looked down upon slave owners. It wasn’t just about the morality of it. There were also economic reasons that people fought against it. And 100 years earlier, it was almost taken for granted.
I’m highlighting slavery, but this applies to every event in our history text books. It’s simply a mistake to look at the events of our past and the decisions that were made through the lens of now, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and judge them harshly.
The point is not to excuse the behavior of the past, but help people see it in the proper context. Without the proper context, people are left to conclude things like “this country was founded on racism,” or “was built on the work of slaves.”
Neither of those ideas are true, anyway. But once you understand the thinking and norms of the times, you realize that many of the statements regarding the injustice of our past are oversimplified and out of context.
In 2020, the United States wouldn’t go to a foreign land and thoughtlessly kill the natives to take the land (as our history in North America is portrayed with the Indians).
But 400 years ago, people were exploring the world and arriving in places they didn’t understand. Sometimes it was peaceful, and sometimes there was war. Sometimes the people who arrived were attacked. Sometimes they did the attacking.
Most importantly, one sentence in a textbook or a high school teacher monologue isn’t ever going to begin to scratch the surface of all the dynamics in play when people were living their lives and making decisions hundreds of years ago. No more so than they can in our daily lives now.
All one has to do is think about any rumors that anyone has ever heard about you. Consider how it’s always oversimplified and always missing critical information. In fact, it’s usually about 100% wrong.
That’s what most of us are doing about American history right now.
We’ve got to stop and teach people to think about the decisions people had to make at those times and the criteria used to make them.