Last week, President Trump signed an Executive Order that would create a commission to promote “patriotic education” and announced the creation of a grant to develop a “pro-American curriculum.” These are largely and obviously political moves that will bear very little real fruit as it relates to changing education in the United States. Executive Orders vary in their importance and impact and some are merely a nicely signed document.
Moreover, this would be an overreach of the federal government role in day-to-day education. This would fly in the face of those who have historically bristled at a national curriculum and many who pushed back on the Common Core State Standards as being a federal push to change curriculum. It is important to point out that the Common Core State Standards were developed by states in partnership with the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and other groups.
Beyond the questions around whether the Executive Order will pay dividends beyond the political or federal overreach there is a foundational question that deserves greater attention. What should we learn from our history? How do we investigate the role of systemic racism in our country’s history? How do we work through more three-dimensional portrayals of our founders, for example? How to we incorporate the experiences and the histories of non-White individuals, communities and cultures?
We have, for far too long, papered over the racist tendencies of our founders, leaders, structures and history. The markers of systemic racism are abundant and throughout our history. It’s doesn’t take long, even when reading the Constitution, to be confronted with systemic racism. Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, also known as the three-fifths compromise, not only makes it clear that Black-Americans were property, but they are only three-fifths of a human-being. Yes, we can debate the reasoning and effects on representation in a young democracy but what we cannot do is whitewash the fact that it is not only racist but systemically racist. We need to have honest conversations about that.
We need to honestly confront our treatment of Indigenous people both in the past and the present. We need to confront the harder truths tied to the Civil War including slavery as a root cause and how to appropriately put into context the treasonous acts of the Confederate States of America. We need to have learners read primary sources, such as the Article of Secession, to draw conclusions about our history. We need to investigate the uneven distribution of the GI Bill post-World War II and how that shaped our neighborhoods and our schools today. We need to learn and understand the importance and origins of the National Farm Workers Association and its impact then and now and how that influences workers’ rights and immigration in our country.
We also need to confront the history of racist practices in education: denying education to Black people, during and well after slavery, and stripping Indigenous people of their culture, identity and knowledge – often resulting in acts of violence against Black and Indigenous peoples. But this is not in our distant past. It’s in our recent past. It’s in the present. And unfortunately, it will also be in the future unless we collectively change the systems with justice and equity-driven practices.
Our history is our collective history. Some of it is glorious and inspiring. Some of it is incredibly hard and needs to be wrestled with. Our mission as a country is to form a more perfect Union. If we hide from our history. If we cover up hard truths about how this country came to be, we can never seek to be better than we are today. Our factions will deepen, or partisanship will overtake the promise of our democracy. Without facing our hardest truths and our systemic racism we will never be able to form a more perfect union.
How can educators engage systemically marginalized children? One solution is student voice. Learn more about decolonizing curriculum and links to actionable student-centered strategies for the classroom.