There’s been so much argument in this country about the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory and the like—that it’s drowned out the conversation that each and every American parent must have (and every school system worthy of the name) with every child.
Having raised the baby not to bite and the toddler to share and the preschooler to stick up for the vulnerable kid on the playground … at some point we have to introduce the monstrous subjects: slavery, Jim Crow and the racism and related problems that linger like nuclear fallout. Do you remember when you confronted those facts for the first time, as a little kid? Slavery?
I do understand being frustrated with schools’ clumsy attempts at this sensitive and sacred project.
For a kindergarten assignment, my daughter spent a winter Saturday trying to get her five-year-old mind around racism—at Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery, where Jesse Owens is buried, and then over lunch at Army and Lou’s, the legendary but now defunct soul food restaurant, where Martin Luther King once ate. Listen to her bewildered young self describe Hitler’s “weird” view that “white people were better than Black people.”
I wrote then: “I reckon we’ll wait until next Black History Month to tell Scout that Owens actually felt more egregiously snubbed by President Roosevelt, who ‘didn’t even send me a telegram.’ Third grade? That’ll be the time we talk about how Owens was unfairly stripped of his amateur status and had to scrape together a living hustling for Black exploitation films, racing against horses and running from IRS agents.”
So yes, I understand parents who don’t trust schools to teach their kids about America’s race history at the proper pace and with the proper perspective.
But it seems to me that much of the anger they express is an emotional cover for the more troubling realization that they don’t have any idea how to teach it themselves.
But teach it they must.
“To forget to teach, or to be too tired to teach, or to elect not to teach doesn’t do away with the job,” my own father wrote in his book, A Child to Change Your Life. “It simply changes the lesson, for nothing teaches indifference or apathy more clearly or quickly than indifference and apathy.”