The 4th of July is the holiest day in the US citizen calendar. This year marks the 246th time Americans have celebrated the monumental achievement of founding a nation that, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, was “formed in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal. Equality.”
But the celebration comes with puzzling facts of history. The fourth article reminds us of the struggle of the Americans, as the Constitution says, to “form a more perfect union”. The stain of human bondage sparked the Civil War. The slaves of the 19th and early 20th centuries fought for the right to vote. Japanese Americans during World War II were forced into internment camps. And men like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr have paid with their lives to achieve equality long denied by African-Americans. When we examine our past, sober reflection should be accompanied by joyful celebration.
Importantly, such reflection must occur in our public schools. Liberals and conservatives are both guilty of undercutting aspects of the American story in the classroom. Some on the left try to reduce our history to an evil tale of patriarchy and racism. Others interpret our country through an ideologically oriented framework that views America as perpetually tainted with the original sin of slavery. Some conservatives have minimized the ways in which slavery, racism and discrimination have scarred our nation.
The vast majority of Americans – left, right and centre – are united against upbringing but in favor of frank instruction and thoughtful debate. Here’s a challenge for educators and every citizen: Let children examine our history with an eye-opener. Families don’t want their children to get caught up in political games. If we help them, our children may be stronger and able to clarify the truth from the point of view, discussion from the indoctrination, than we give them credit for.
All Americans should be concerned about any way of raising children. But references to America’s troubled history of race relations, including today’s challenges, are not necessarily proof of that. Achievements in the field of civil rights have occurred through an imperfect process spanning more than two centuries. The struggles of Americans like King and Frederick Douglass are lessons in striving toward the “more perfect union” in the Founders’ imagination. And they deserve to be taught.
The American public school system must teach both the heroic and glorious aspects of American history. As Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said, “We can teach all of our history, the good, the bad, and the children of Virginia will be better off for it.” While not always a comfortable process, teaching children the complete history of America in an age-appropriate manner, with parental awareness, is necessary in their own interest. them and our country.
Doing so will help take politics out of education. It will help prepare children for the real world, where preventing feelings of hurt takes precedence over facing uncomfortable truths. And it will instill in our children the ability to entertain ideas with which they may disagree — an essential condition for a functioning democracy.
American exceptionalism is real, but fragile. Teaching the full story of American history will encourage the next generations of Americans in their own progress toward a more perfect union. As Lincoln put it, America remains “Earth’s last best hope.” If we tell the whole story of America’s past, it helps to write a bright story about America’s future.
Mr. Bennett served as US Secretary of Education, 1985-88.
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Appears in print edition July 1, 2022.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-hard-truths-of-american-history-usa-slavery-discrimination-education-debate-ideology-civil-war-11656625631 Hard facts of American history