A Political Stump That Shouldn’t Be Political

Gonna take a moment to share something that frankly shouldn’t be political, but judging by the party-lines vote so far, apparently is.

Someone shared a meme on Facebook to say that white men should be treated well because they won World War 2. This of course not only ignores the contributions from BIPOC members of the armed forces (and all women), but blatantly denies the history of why there were fewer non-white combatants than there could have been, such as official regulations which prevented enlisted black men from serving in the same capacity as enlisted white men. Dorie Miller shot down enemy planes at Pearl Harbor in a cook’s uniform because he was not allowed to be a gunner. He saved countless lives, was awarded a medal, and was sent back to continue as a cook until his death, because that was the regulated role of a black sailor.

This shared meme also ignores that tens of thousands of eligible Asian-American men could not fight alongside white soldiers because they had been taken from their homes without due process and imprisoned for years in camps where people were shot to death if they walked too near the fences—a thing which is Very Bad if it happens in Europe, but apparently is not worth mentioning in history classes when it happens here.

“White people deserve more consideration” is white supremacy. “Because they contribute more” is the false foundation justifying it, possible only through ignorance of history. HB1134 seeks to codify this false view and others by allowing racists to protest the history they dislike, making schools teach a sanitized and muted version lest teachers face fines or lose their licenses. The bill fundamentally promotes the idea that anything uncomfortable or not neatly fitting our biases can be safely shut out, which author Rep. Tony Cook curiously calls giving “an active voice.” But of course, that active voice is only for some; after all, we need to protect the feelings of some children more than the history of all children.

What an absolute joke, to open a bill with “Education matters” and then legislate the sanctioned avoidance of “educational activities and curricular materials” per personal preference.

“I want to ensure all of history is taught to students, including the good, bad and ugly,” Rep. Cook says, while writing legislation that would allow students to opt out of history lessons and censure teachers whose lessons might cause “discomfort.”

The bill’s supporters say that children can feel uncomfortable if they learn about racism in history. Well, GOOD. One SHOULD be uncomfortable upon learning that one’s government abducted people and held them captive in poor conditions for years based solely on skin color. Anyone who does not find that disturbing enough to educate against should absolutely not be in any position of authority, and certainly should not be enacting legislation.

(We don’t have time here to properly address that the bill also requires parental consent, with provided weeks of potential delay, for a concerned teacher, counselor, or even a licensed psychologist to speak with a student about “mental, social-emotional, or psychological health issues”—y’know, such as “could you be suffering from clinical depression?” or “are you experiencing domestic abuse?” Nor can a student privately ask a licensed psychologist for help or referral to other resources without parental consent. A student with a parent who doesn’t believe in mental illness or who wants to conceal his abuse must wait for intervention until a “crisis situation” with “immediate danger.” This bill is not about protecting students from “psychological discomfort.”)

Discomfort is not personal guilt. Of course no one should feel guilty over someone else’s actions before they were born, and despite hyperbolic propaganda, that’s not what is taught in actual history classes. Teaching history is not about inducing guilt—it’s about understanding how we got here and having knowledge and perspective to make decisions now. No one should derive personal shame today from white men’s decisions to illegally incarcerate Japanese-Americans or openly prevent black men from serving to their best abilities. Nor should anyone derive personal worth today from white men’s actions made more visible by those injustices.

Studying history does not require identifying with everyone in it. One can find personal guilt about atrocities in history only if one also finds personal pride in higher status in history. And that suggests a lot about the people claiming truthful history could make us feel worse about ourselves.

We don’t need a law allowing parents to undermine public education to suit their personal tastes. For parents who feel a less selective American history could be damaging to their children’s egos, or who think algebra was difficult for them personally and therefore their kids shouldn’t have to face so challenging a subject, homeschooling has been and remains an option. There they can have 100% curriculum determination instead of the 60% majority determination over professional educators prescribed by this bill.

And yes, the authors say the bill is to prevent curricula that teach [white] students should feel distress over history. But as they haven’t presented any examples of actual such lessons, 54 single-spaced pages seems an odd use of resources on a hypothetical situation. Look instead at how those vague criteria are currently being defined and acted upon elsewhere, such as “this book has a black character who feels out of place in his new and primarily-white school, so obviously this author means for white kids to be identified as oppressors,” and we can see the real potential here.

“It is inappropriate instructional material. The books don’t come out and say we want white children to feel like oppressors, but that is absolutely what they will do.”

Bonnie Anderson, mother concerned about CRT and Marxism in school, who started a petition to remove New Kid and have the author’s visit canceled. Under HB1134, her protest could overrule the school curriculum and cost a teacher $1000 in fines, or even a loss of license.
Yep, I definitely spy a suggestion that a black character sometimes feels struggle between cultures. Damaging “Marxist” content for sure. Image from New Kid, by Jerry Craft.

New Kid was brought back after a review found it was actually more about empathy, but other schools are pulling black-authored books, and already we’re seeing overtly racist protests against other books, such as the telling argument that a targeted book with a white protagonist also portrays people of color as “cool” which causes “cognitive dissonance” for white readers. (Tell me again how this movement is really about reducing racial division and protecting active voices.)

They say those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, but it’s clear that many actively WANT to repeat that history. Censoring books by race and limiting the discussion of government atrocities is never the sign of a just society, and HB1134’s authors and supporters know enough history to be aware of that. They just hope that in the future, we won’t.

HB1134 has moved to the Indiana senate, so your Indiana senator is the person to contact. And similar bills, usually presented as anti-CRT measures, are appearing in other states around the US, so it’s worth keeping your eyes open.

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One Comment

  1. Good points, Laura. It’s a tricky subject, imho. CRT can be applied in incredibly damaging ways (individually and societally). Threads of white supremacy should be rooted out wherever found. Recorded history is always biased and it’s good to provide students access to alternative testimonies and stories.

    America is full of people with differing philosophies and worldviews, so it’s tough to say what should be taught in “public education”, what should be optional based on family values, etc.

    I so much agree that “discomfort” at certain parts of truthful history is not something to be avoided, but learned from! I’ve visited the Manzanar WWII-era Japanese internment camp multiple times, and it’s so important that we understand how American citizens were rounded up and denied their rights and ensure that it NEVER happens again.

    I appreciate that you’re out there raising awareness of these issues and encouraging people to be active in their local, State, and Federal duties as citizens. When good people are active in government decisions, we have a much better chance at good laws and a good society… and a good life for us and future generations.

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