Not for the First Time, Nor the Last
- Dr. James Anderson, professor of history and Dean of the School of Education at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. He is author of the foundational work, Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, which is central to understanding the educational experience of African Americans in the key years around the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the anti-democratic counter-revolution that followed Reconstruction.
- Dr. Adam Laats, professor of history at Binghamton University in New York whose research centers on political battles over education, from the Scopes Trial to today. He is author of several books, including his 2015 book, The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education
They engaged in a wide-ranging discussion of both the history that students learn in school and the history of the political fights about what students should learn in school.
Both historians urged educators to help students face history squarely and learn how to evaluate evidence and weigh facts in making judgments.
The current controversy over critical race theory relies on what Laats called a “ginned-up controversy” about what students should learn, not a controversy over what historians think. “If you asked one hundred historians whether race played a key role in American history, there would be no controversy.”
However, he added, conservatives only have to show that an idea seems controversial in order to scare teachers and principals away from teaching about it.
Anderson warned that an uneducated citizenry unaware of our history makes democracy very fragile and vulnerable to demagogues. And he countered the idea that knowing about slavery and other ugly parts of American history causes people to be less patriotic. “The notion that you can only develop patriotism by manufacturing a history or manufacturing a truth is a very, very false notion. People are more patriotic when they understand the society in which they live and are committed to making it a better society. That is a source of patriotism. This fear that somehow if people know about slavery, about Jim Crow, about the ways in which race has shaped our dominant social institution, that somehow they’d be less patriotic. That is simply a false narrative. That’s a false notion.” He gave as examples the many African American and Native American soldiers who enlisted and fought in the world wars despite the fact that they knew full well that they were not treated as full citizens.
Some of the things mentioned in the course of the conversation were:
- The historian John Blasingame.
- Harold Rugg’s textbooks used in the 1920s and 1930s.
- A paper on civics education by Nancy Beadie and Zoe Burkholder.
- The cults of Jim Jones and David Koresh.