Only liars fear truth: Parents of color want America to know that our children’s education matters
“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, dimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner… and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth.”
– W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction
“The black-white rift stands at the very center of American history. It is the great challenge to which all our deepest aspirations to freedom must rise. If we forget that – if we forget the great stain of slavery that stands at the heart of our country, our history, our experiment — we forget who we are, and we make the great rift deeper and wider.”
– Ken Burns
In the battles over school content, the voices of White parents seem to be the only ones the media hears. It is rare that I read a perspective from the parents of Black, Indigenous, Asian, and Latinx children. It is time that changes. I ask a simple question. What about our children?
Our voices matter too. The fear mongering that is going on about what will legally be taught in school is reminiscent of the reaction to the end of legalized school segregation. You saw a great deal of fear and consternation expressed by White parents far and wide after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. White parents acted as if it was the end of the world. Slowly but surely they got what they wanted, re-segregated schools. In many places schools are more segregated today than they were over 60 years ago. White people are over one-third of the residents of Milwaukee, but White children are less than one-tenth of the students in Milwaukee Public Schools.
In this current cycle of debates about education, White people in school board meetings appear to be winning the “loudest voices in the room” award. I intentionally said people instead of parents. It’s not so much White parents that have this issue with what is taught in schools. When you follow the money trail of people who are funding this “movement” you don’t find parents of school aged children.
As I have spoken to parents, teachers and others as I travel around the state and country about the value of learning a truthful history of this country, I find few that are willing to tell parents of color that their children are not important.
The well-funded, conservative, anti-everything movement is leading the country down the same old road we’ve already been down many times before. Despite what many would have you believe, most schools in this country are not attempting to teach history in an honest way. The teachers do not know that history, and the textbooks do not include the details of that history.
As some are pushing to make these changes, including more inclusive curriculum, those who want to continue to sanitize American history and misinform more generations of children, are working overtime. They can call it anything they choose to, but the messaging is clear. White people have always had the power to tell the stories of this nation’s history and leave out whatever they chose to leave out. There is absolutely no doubt about that. That is the purpose of all of this nonsense going on in schools and statehouses around the country. They are fighting to maintain the status quo by any means necessary.
As the racial reckoning coming out of the the past decade of exposure to the extremes of anti-people of color violence has made it into national headlines, people expect change. This is not a new request. We have been talking about systemic racism since way before it had that name. Read the speeches of Frederick Douglass and the words of Richard, Wright, James Baldwin, Richard Pryor and other Black social critics and you are literally being exposed to an articulation of systemic racism. The difference now is that more White people have been willing to listen than at any time in history. The “woke mob” as some have called empathetic White people, has caused a fear of the type not seen in many years. They used to call these White people “nigger-lovers” back in the day.
When the Reconstruction governments pushed for universal education in the 1860s and 70s, they wanted a more honest educational system. Throughout the early twentieth century, scholars of color said we need to have honest history taught.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson pushed to include Black people in history books and classes. This led him to create Negro History Week in February 1926. His goal was simple. Don’t create Black history classes or curriculum. Instead, he said simply include Blacks in the history you’re already teaching. If the nation would have followed his advice, there would be no need for Black History Month that so many White people seem to hate.
The same could be said about other people of color whose presence was erased from the stories of America. This intentional exclusion created a form of lying. Lies of exclusion are just as powerful as the outright lies that have been told about all Native Americans, Blacks born in this country, Africa and the Caribbean, Asians from Japan, China, Korea and dozens of other nations as well as the diverse assortment of people from Latin America.
A long history of lies and exclusion is the primary reason a majority of White people are so misinformed about the lived experiences of people of color. Living in homogenous, mostly or all-white communities does not help either.
Today, Whites account for just six out of ten people in this country. That is actually an exaggeration because the government has lumped people from North Africa and the Middle East into the White people bucket even if they look like me. This demographic shift, towards a White minority some time soon, is supposedly one of the greatest fears White people have according to sociologists.
More than fifty percent of children in public schools are children of color and their parents are demanding that their stories matter too. They are not accepting the status quo of exclusionary learning.
The state of Wisconsin passed Act 31 in 1989, making it mandatory to teach the history of every federally recognized Native American tribe in Wisconsin in school. It did not matter. It is still rarely taught. Most teachers have never even heard of Act 31. No one monitors the schools to see if they are complying with that law. The stories are still invisible in our classrooms. Laws are meaningless if they are not enforced.
Some are arguing that teaching the ugly parts of American history are divisive. What makes it divisive? Is it divisive because White people do not want to believe or acknowledge the stories of people of color? Is it divisive because it makes White people look bad? As I’ve said many times in the past, get over yourselves.
We are tired of being lied to. We are tired of our children being lied to. If White children learn about the bad acts of their ancestors, they will understand the diverse world that they will live in better. People of color are not going away. More than half of all children under the age of one in America are children of color. The future will look different than the present and past whether people like it or not.
Our voices and stories have been excluded for centuries. It is time that changes. There are no excuses that are acceptable to parents of color. We are tired of excuses.
The reality is that American history is not this mythical story we all learned in school. America has warts like every other nation that has ever existed. Showing and talking about those warts will only harm those who want to be dishonest. Only liars need to fear the truth.
“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin