Remember when you were in high school all those years ago? For me it was decades—longer than I’d like to remember, but just yesterday in my mind. Age has its privileges with one of them being the great gift of perspective. The problem with perspective is that it is malleable and based on innumerable factors, not the least being our personal traits be they gender, age, race, ethnicity, or anything else one can think of. If you’re a certain way, whatever that way may be, there’s a perspective for you, waiting for your embrace.
Perspective can be comforting as well, providing a warm embrace to our greatest fears or our most radical ideas. No matter what you choose as your perspective, there will be others with their arms opened wide to embrace even those who feel they’re disenfranchised, outcasts, or other myriad reasons why they feel they don’t belong. It’s really easy, and that’s the problem in this modern world we’ve created. Open up a social media app, Reddit for example, and there’s a group for you, ready to see things your way and validate what you’ve always thought about a given subject no matter how radical, reactionary, or otherwise. History be damned.
In this brave new world we can create our own narrative, one in which we cherry pick anecdotal events that illustrate our perspective, using those anecdotes to indict an entire group of people or even a nation. We can go further than that, weaponizing information in order to indoctrinate our youth to the false narrative of whatever in order to achieve our objectives. It’s easy. Take an event, distort the history a bit—not much as we don’t want to give the game away—and then talk about it as an example of whatever we wish it to be.
If said issue appeals to the feels, even better for most people get their judgement clouded by the feels rather than the facts because the feels appeals to our basic instinct of being good, and if we’re not good we must be bad, so the equation of feels equals good trumps facts for facts don’t make us feel and therefore facts must be bad. Follow the logic?
This is where history comes in. For the last couple of centuries, history has been used as a tool for indoctrination, weaponized to further an established narrative of those holding power. Whether it was the Prussian School that sought in the mid-19th century to teach Prussian values to unite Germany rather than Austrian, or authoritarian governments wanting to squelch popular movements that challenged their authority, history has been the lynchpin, and the teachers of said history, its conduit.
This is no small matter for students are pre-programmed to accept what their teacher says as gospel truth, and it’s that power that makes teaching not only a profession of power but almost undue influence, especially in the realm of primary grade children and in the discipline of history. The teacher occupies a special place in the hierarchy of most societies; one of respect and admiration spanning the centuries and is the one whose first and best responsibility is to teach the art of inquiry, to fire the imagination and fuel the need to pursue knowledge. A teacher’s charge is not to indoctrinate either their beliefs or those of the ruling classes, inculcating those beliefs into the most vulnerable among us…students.
Teaching history is, in itself, fraught with land mines as historical interpretation is part and parcel of the discipline. Teaching history demands constant research as well as abject honestly in relating it to students. As such, the discipline requires a Rankian* approach, one in which facts are the only basis on which historical interpretation should be based. This approach demands research not reliance on textbooks which so often distort the reality of history to serve state or federal legislatures and their agendas.
Said research is a burden for the average high school teacher and almost anathema to middle school teachers as the work never ends…there’s so much to read and so little time to do it; but it must be done if we are to teach properly. Sadly, this is not the case for so many in the profession.
I’m reminded of a number of incidents encountered during my teaching career wherein historical distortion was taught as truth to unsuspecting students, leaving me to correct the error. One such distortion is the notion that our Constitution enshrines slavery as the basis for this nation’s existence. This is not remotely true as many of the Founders supported the abolitionist cause a fact often glossed over in American history classes. Further, Frederick Douglass, one of the great American minds of the 19th century reiterated in his famous 4th of July speech the Constitution did not enshrine slavery- a speech so often edited to leave that part out.
The most egregious of these historically inaccurate truths is the fact that Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States is the “go to” resource for introductory American history classes at the collegiate level. It is chock full of falsities and outright lies yet because it fosters a narrative preferred by liberal college professors, it has been adopted as the de facto text. Not only is this wrong, but it furthers a false narrative foisted upon unsuspecting students who do not know better. The even larger problem is no accompanying counter-narrative by which students can compare, analyze and dissect in order to arrive at their own conclusions (in this case, the counter-narrative would be A Patriot’s History of the United States).
This does not mean to say the teacher is not to reflect the wishes of the community for that also has a a place. A community’s standards and desires are to be respected and reflected, but not when it comes to truth, especially in the discipline of history. There is curated truth and there is truth reflected in historical fact, a Rankean* approach wherein only the facts are stated, the feels be damned. Not exciting, not entertaining, but certainly honest.
We’ve lost that in the modern day. A teacher’s responsibility is to educate…not indoctrinate. A teacher’s mandate is to teach the subject at hand in order to provide the basic foundation of education for students, not inseminate their students with what they believe to be the truth or their truth which does not exist nor should exist in a classroom.
Further, teachers should remain in their discipline, crossing over only when necessary. Math teacher should be teaching math – that is what they are hired for and their area of expertise, just as a history teacher should not be teaching the intricacies of biological science. Anything out of a teacher’s expertise should be left to that discipline’s educators.
We’ve lost our way in public education, guided by overriding principles of feels and social justice when our real mandate is the education of our charges, a responsibility many have lost sight of. We’ve overstepped our bounds, driven by individual notions of what “right” is, what “justice” is, when those arenas are the perview of parents. We are not hired for such things. However, when parents abrogate their responsibility, failing to question what’s done in the classroom, it gives rise to “bad players”, those with agendas all their own, sacrificing the education of their students to their own altar of what they deem right, honorable, and just. This should not and cannot happen, yet it does.
This “personal teacher agenda” results in students unable to execute the basics of traditional education: Reading, writing, and arithmetic. They become activists rather than active learners, foregoing their educational basics in favor of what they’ve become indoctrinated with; skewed history with a decidedly political agenda which appeals to their feels rather than to fact. When the feels fail to satisfy or provide the basics of what they need, they believe the system failed them…and it did…and has…and does.
This is where we’re at in public education. The profession has been hijacked by those whose intentions might be honest, and some who are dishonest players seeking comfort and aid in the group—recruiting students to satisfy their own feelings of inadequacy—all the while destroying whatever semblance of education remained. It is the education of indoctrination, not the teaching of skills and critical thinking. In the end everyone fails, for the movement never goes far enough.
The result? Doubt is cast on the system, and rightly so, with that doubt becoming a festering wound which only gets worse, fed by the same bad actors at the collegiate level who pry open the educational wound so as to further their goals of the perfect society, their dreams of utopia, without ever once considering the student whom they are to serve. They feed their feels with food that neither nourishes nor satisfies, in the end, killing the very souls they were to teach in the first place.
Students graduate with degrees as worthless as a plug nickel, never finding themselves nor satisfaction in their education, only questioning everything around them for everything around them is bad…nothing good. They rail against their nation, a nation they were taught was evil from the beginning and now is irredeemable and must be destroyed, like some planet from a dystopian novel.
The unwillingness to instill work ethic or insist on teaching basic skills results in students unable to produce a coherent paragraph, analyze critically, or otherwise be properly educated. They’ve learned little other than to become activists, complainers, and how to avoid hard work which is what education is…hard work.
*Hard work—*the very idea causes stress and in this hyper-sensitive society we’ve created, stress in the pursuit of accomplishment is seen as something to be avoided; yet stress is the very thing that makes us harder, better, and able to address our weaknesses; and so it is with students. Unfortunately, they’re not allowed that growth opportunity because the feels. The inevitable result? Atrophy of their intellectual muscles and the ability to fend for themselves. Is it any wonder so many struggle to cope when faced with adversity be it in the classroom or society?
*Leopold von Ranke – a 19th century German historian noted for his “only facts” approach to writing and interpreting history.