Educating America

Educating America

By Robert Scott

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

The readership of The Edgefield Advertiser consists, I am sure, of reasonably educated people. On a personal level, I havehad more education than most, but that additional education was in the very arcane area of higher mathematics and not in one of the more general fields of “liberal arts.” Other than that, my educational background likely is not too different from most of our readership. I attended public schools from kindergarten on up, including graduating from high school right here in South Carolina. But recently, I have discovered that my American History education had some large holes. Here are examples.

I was taught about the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers, whose public pronouncements were focused on freedom and “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” There was little if any recognition that many of them owned slaves and were financially and morally tied to the proposition that all men (there was little discussion then of the rights of women) were not actually created equal – only white men were. Black people had no rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and life itself was largely subject to acquiescing without protest to the loss of those other freedoms. I learned about the Mexican War of 1845 and could tell you about the Gadsden Purchase rounding out the current boundaries of our country, but I learned very little about Denmark Vesey who, around that same time, nearly succeeded in a rebellion aimed at securing life and liberty to his fellow black South Carolinians. I only learned about the racially charged Hamburg Massacre of 1876 involving hundreds of men from Edgefield County because I chose to study that as an adult; there was nothing in my school curriculum that even mentioned it. And I only learned this year about the Tulsa Massacre that destroyed what was called Black Wall Street, in 1921. Like most white Americans, the public education I received told me about none of those.

It is time to fix that. There is a controversial sociological concept called Critical Race Theory whose aim is to reframe what students learn about American History, highlighting racialinjustices that continue today. CRT is controversial because it takes racial conflict and makes it central to learning. To my mind, it oversimplifies by exposing what are still open wounds and, arguably, doing little to close them up again. The predominantly conservative (in every sense of that word) governments in several states are proposing legislation to prohibit the teaching of such concepts, including here in South Carolina. As a theory, CRT has its advocates and its detractors. Banning it, though, will only serve to give it more publicity. Laws banning CRT are likely to fail or, if they pass, to be ruled unconstitutional restrictions on teachers’ academic freedom and free speech rights.

In any case, we all need to learn more about our American History than previous generations did. One truth that is not self-evident is becoming obvious: we Americans have been miseducated about our own past. Whether through CRT or otherwise, it is time – past time – to fix that miseducation, starting with our adult population but, yes, reaching to our children as well.That we are the greatest nation on earth may be the underlying message for our young, but that message must be honest: our history reveals flaws. By learning from the past, they are flaws which we can address together and, as the Civil Rights anthem states, they are flaws that we shall overcome.