Sometimes when I drive, I will listen to radio stations other than I normally do, so I don’t stay ignorant of other voices.
Once I stumbled across "The Glenn Beck Program," and I heard him say, “They’re trying to make us white men feel bad about ourselves.” I also heard Rush Limbaugh say, “For the past 40 years, the educational system has been teaching an anti-American education.”
This usually comes up when there is a discussion of Black History Month, which created some real problems at Chaska High School a couple years back. It’s like people are scared of learning.
This is being echoed in political discussions about what equity is. I saw a video that said “equity will make white kids feel bad about themselves.”
I don’t know what that means in terms of education. If you are talking about American history, there is a lot to be proud of, and a lot to be very concerned about, because we are by no means a perfect country. We all know that.
If some people grew up thinking that we are always "the good guys,” like I did, then it comes as a shock when we learn something new.
I was brought up believing that the United States won World War II single-handedly. Now that is true in the Pacific; but not true in Europe. The U.S. supplied both Britain and Russia with a lot of foodstuffs and military hardware. But while the U.S. lost 600,000 dead, which is plenty, Russia lost 15 million dead soldiers and 10 million dead civilians.
Two-thirds of the German casualties were on the Eastern Front. These are simple facts. No one should feel bad because maybe we weren’t as important as we have been taught — in fact, we might feel better knowing what Russia went through, so we understand them better.
Germany is another good example of facing the music. Adolf Hitler killed 50 million people; he launched the Holocaust against Jewish people, but the first people euthanized were people with mental and physical disabilities. Those with Down syndrome, any sort of mental deficiency, kids born with any birth defects — the authorities quietly took them aside and stuck needles in them, because they didn’t want to tie up nursing talent for the war.
They also put political prisoners in the camps, like Catholic and Lutheran priests, and any LGBTQ people. Anyone who even made a joke about Hitler would be sent to the camps.
How does Germany deal with that? They deal with it very well, by teaching their kids everything that happened. I have a friend married to a German man, with three kids. They were all brought to a concentration camp on a field trip where they were told the story.
The kids were not ruined by knowing the hard truth; they were equipped to be realists about how a very civilized nation can be led down the path of fascism, and how to prevent it from happening again. The Germans have been excellent allies to the U.S. and excellent partners in the European Union. They don’t deny anything, and they are better citizens because of it.
When I was a kid, I learned that my ancestors came from Norway in the 1880s. We had nothing to do with the Indian Wars that made the land so cheap for my farmer forbearers.
But it is true that Minnesota also conducted the largest mass execution of Native American prisoners of war in the nation’s history (38) in Mankato in 1862. I did not know that until I was in my 40s. Does that make me feel bad about myself? No, it makes me feel more honest. It makes me feel like I need to know more about what happened, so that it doesn’t happen again.
It informs me that the prosperity that sent my dad to college, and then me, was based on how we did not buy the farmland from the Indians, we just took it. So I feel more mature about myself that I don’t shy away from the bitter truths of our state.
We are now confronting the same truths about the wealth that piled up from the use of cheap labor of enslaved people. People older than me were taught that “the slaves were happy!” But even the most basic reading shows how false that story is. How would you feel if your mother was routinely sexually assaulted by the owner? That was part of the benefits package for the slaver. And if their offspring had some white in them, you could sell your own children off for a higher price.
Was my family involved in the slave trade? Nope. Do I feel bad that slavery was so awful? You bet. Do I feel bad about myself because I know that? No, I feel better as a human, learning this stuff because it helps me to understand the Black and brown people that I know. I can take it.
I know a Black guy that works for a major corporation who went to India. He ate some food there, and got sick as a dog for five days. I asked him, “Isn’t it dangerous eating the food there?” He said “Not as dangerous as driving to work in Golden Valley every day.”
I come from a family of teachers, and teaching kids the truth about the United States is never “anti-American.” What is, is keeping kids from learning the truth, which makes them ill-informed and unable to cope with reality when they learn something unpleasant.
I taught college part-time for 11 years, and there were freshmen who did not know Martin Luther from Martin Luther King.
There is a distressing lack of education in the United States today, and it won’t be helped by thinking our kids are too fragile to handle the truth.