Minneapolis and What We Teach 📚
June 2, 2020
I write about the 403(b) retirement plan. It’s one of the few topics I claim some knowledge about. Events in Minnesota, that have spread across the country, have disturbed me at a deep level. Writing about the 403(b) this week seems trite and insensitive.
I claim no true understanding of what African Americans have gone through in this country, and are going through right now. How can I? I am a privileged white person who hit the gene pool lottery: born to white, educated American parents in the mid 1960s. I was actually born the same year the Voting Rights Act was enacted. Almost 100 years after the Civil War, federal legislation was needed to counter local and state voting restrictions placed on African Americans. WTF? The myth too many white Americans I know hold onto is that the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the election of Barack Obama somehow leveled the playing field. False. Just this spring we have learned that Ahmaud Arbery, an African American out for a jog, was shot dead for being… African American. Then came the footage of George Floyd’s murder. We only know about these incidents because of cell phone technology. How many similar killings went unrecorded? How many similar killings will go unrecorded?
One of the great experiences of my life was earning a doctorate in Language, Literacy, and Social Cultural Studies at the University of New Mexico. I learned on day one of my program that Christopher Columbus made not one but four voyages to this hemisphere. His second journey was a massive slave roundup. How at age 40, and having taught public school for more than a decade, did I not know this? I’ll tell you how. We aren't honest about our history. We strip inconvenient truths from the curriculum we foist on students. No wonder so many white Americans seem so indifferent to the plight of African Americans.
This historical malpractice is well documented in James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me. The book recounts the myth making and falsehoods all too-prevalent in American history textbooks. Did you know that the great progressive Woodrow Wilson resegregated the federal government? Or that he helped revive the KKK? Do you know the true story of Helen Keller? Why don’t we know more about John Brown? In other work, Mr. Loewen, who I have had the privilege of meeting, writes about Sundown Towns, American cities that systematically expelled or banned African Americans. Lest you think these are confined to the South, there were more than 500 sundown towns in Illinois.
Mr. Loewen’s books are just a handful of many that get closer to the true story of the American experience. If we don’t start teaching truth, we will never become the country we purport to be.
Stay well and get wise.