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Point of View: Breaking Chains

Wed, 11/18/2020 - 12:17

There has always been in this country somewhat of a disconnect between its ideals and reality, though, because of Americans’ essential fair-mindedness, I am so bold to say, we — though not as swiftly or as smoothly as some might claim — do tend toward a more perfect union.

All the more reason, then, to tell the whole truth. If we can acknowledge our failings, which we Americans seem to be able to do, why do we fear to tell the entire story — what’s uplifting and what’s shameful. For there’s been plenty of both in our history.

I don’t know what’s in the schools’ civics textbooks, though I can reasonably guess that there hasn’t been much about slavery, Jim Crow, or the civil rights movement, at least during the time not long ago when William Hartwell, Juni Wingfield, and Ava Mack’s popular Bridgehampton-based Unity Group took students during spring breaks to Atlanta, Selma, and Chicago, the idea being to inform and inspire them.

Happily, Willie Jenkins, a Unity Group member when he was a student, and a leader of the recent peaceful Black Lives Matter marches here, has taken up their mantle.

The president-unelect seems to think that too much has been made of America’s original sin, though, as I say, I always marveled that too little was made of it in the textbooks, as was apparently the case with the 1619 Project journalists, who have received a Pulitzer Prize for their work.

Not long ago, I read that he was to appoint a 1776 commission to write up a “pro-American” curriculum that would emphasize “the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated fascism and communism, and built the most fair, equal, and prosperous nation in human history.”

For him, apparently, it’s like a nuclear reaction. Poof! — you’re a member of the most fair, equal, and prosperous nation in the world! Though the president-unelect ought to know, if he knows anything of American history, or of history in general, that just about every progressive step has come about through struggle.

If our history has been an unstoppable chain of events, it’s only been because of people so inspired by our ideals that they have worked unceasingly to break the chains: abolitionists, suffragists, workers, civil and gay rights advocates. . . .

A real pro-American curriculum would include all of it — Yankee Doodle and Howard Zinn. Concord and Tulsa. Leadville and Hershey, Pa.

And this all-inclusive history curriculum should be thoroughgoing, not just vignettes, and should be reflected upon, not spoon-fed. Students should be encouraged to raise their hands, to inquire. But don’t get me started, that’s enough for now.

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