It wasn’t enough that teachers were encouraged to go back to their classrooms during the height of the pandemic. It wasn’t enough that we were deemed essential workers to further a political agenda. And it wasn’t enough that our Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, pushed schools to reopen while continuing to provide absolutely zero leadership or guidance. Now, our president has set his sights on the curriculum.
President Donald Trump has not been shy about his rejection of the 1619 Project, a podcast created by The New York Times Magazine. Over the last few months, he has made comments and tweets denouncing the podcast as false history, and saying it was indoctrination to share it with students. Many teachers and even some districts enjoyed the content enough to bring it into their classrooms as an engaging way to learn about our country’s history with race and enslavement. President Trump has gone so far to threaten to pull funding for schools that use the 1619 Project in the classroom.
Most recently, Donald Trump announced he was creating a “patriotic education” commission and was looking to create an executive order to push a pro-American curriculum. He also said at this time that teachers were radicals trying to push “new segregation.” Before we really tackle this, let’s get obvious out of the way: the Trump administration can neither force states to adopt a curriculum nor withhold their funding for using materials he doesn’t like. Additionally, the 1619 Project is not indoctrination or radical, it is a podcast that explores an embarrassing and tragic part of our history.
The Trump administration can neither force states to adopt a curriculum nor withhold their funding for using materials he doesn’t like Click To Tweet
While teachers are continually shouted at to keep politics out of the classroom for implementing strategies that are more inclusive of all students, it seems ironically political to try to mandate patriotic education. Most importantly, “patriotic” as determined by who? The problem is, the word patriotism and patriotic have been bastardized. When people say patriotic, they mean pride in one’s country – but lately patriotic has simply meant buying into American Exceptionalism with no questions asked. Or worse, patriotic has meant buying into a specific political party’s most hateful rhetoric. I fear people like the Dallas teacher who promoted Kyle Rittenhouse (the Kenosha shooter) as a hero will be seen as a patriotic educator, while those of us who promote equity will be seen as the radicals.
There is nothing un-American about learning our real past. In fact, I vehemently believe it is un-American to white-wash and suppress our true history. Our history includes voices that have long been silenced: Black people, Latinx, immigrants, women, and so many more. Sometimes, our history has been messy, tragic, and despicable. But we learn nothing when we silence these realities – instead, we doom ourselves to repeat past mistakes. Critically examining our past and looking to better this country for all is to be the definition of patriotic.
The Japanese immigrants who were placed in internment camps were American. The countless BIPOC who were lynched or subjected to extrajudicial killings were American. The Native Americans who faced genocide, disloyalty in every single treaty, and disenfranchisement were absolutely American. To ignore this history is to forget America.
There was plenty of backlash when people called for racist monuments to be removed from public spaces because it was seen as erasing history. Yet, when we try to actually shed light on history, those same objectors are the first to silence it. As a history teacher, I am worried. I am worried about living and teaching in a country where my sharing multiple perspectives and covering my standards is considered indoctrination. I am not a “radical” in the classroom, but these sentiments by our administration radicalize me: they have only further convinced me that the work I do is critical, and the fight has just begun.
Let’s call this patriotic education what it is: white supremacy. The goal is to silence not just one podcast that details the harrowing experience of enslavement but to silence all of those voices that we have just begun amplifying. While Donald Trump may not technically have the power to withhold funding or dictate curriculum, please take what he has said seriously. And above all, reject white supremacy.
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