Maybe white college students deserve more credit than they get. Maybe – apologies to The Who – the kids are fine.
Leo Glaze seems to think so, based on a tweet I came across last week. In it, he describes himself as an educator who spent his career in predominantly white private colleges. “I think I teach… history about as hard and honest as any American teacher,” he wrote. “And when children learn the truth about this country, they are shocked and upset that they have lied. Not uncomfortable.
In saying this, he gave a voice, albeit by proxy, to the one group that was largely missing from the nation’s bitter and ongoing debate on the teaching of African American history. We have heard ad nauseam from lawmakers that the subject should be banned because it makes white children, yes, “uncomfortable.” And parents who say it makes them ask painful questions.
But we have not heard from the children themselves. If this professor is right, maybe we should. Glaze, who told me over the phone that he teaches at Waverly School in Pasadena, said that in his experience, once the kids – black, white, brown and others – learn this story, they have tend to ask one thing: “How come they don’t you don’t already know?” How come no one has ever told them that before? “
He’s convinced it’s not really because they’re too young. Rather, it is because their elders themselves do not know how to deal with the American history of genocide, land theft, slavery, rape, oppression and aggression. On this path are found truths of stone which, of necessity, lend a sad note to the song of “God Bless the USA”.
This is why some of us are afraid to take this path. And it can be argued that fear is the great unspoken driver of American history.
As Glaze pointed out, one of the arguments against ending slavery was, “’If we give them their freedom, what will happen to us? There’s the whole idea… Blacks are going to go around and drag the whites out of their homes and murder them. This notion is repeated throughout history: if we let them exercise their functions, if we give them the right to vote, if we allow them to be educated, if we stop terrorizing them on a daily basis, what will they do to us? To do ?
And the answer always turned out to be: nothing. But this fear always returns, even now, in the education debate. As Glaze puts it, “If we admit all these lies and wrongs, if we really try to fix these things, what is going to happen to us?” “
Understanding the robustness of this fear is understanding why so many of us feel the need to pack heat to get the mail.
I admit that to my knowledge no study empirically proves that children are less traumatized – and more open to – learning true American history than their elders. But I have seen a lot of anecdotal evidence corresponding to Glaze’s experience. And that leaves me wondering what the kids do with all of this. Have they learned the painful truths of American history? How did it affect them? And if they haven’t been taught, would they like to be?
I would love to hear from them, whether by email ([email protected]) or Twitter (@ LeonardPittsJr1). Perhaps we will come back to the subject in a future column. Not to idealize young people, who have a bad habit of becoming adults, but I suspect they neither need nor want to be treated like greenhouse flowers. I bet the kids are okay.
These are the adults we need to care about.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
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