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On the eve of Independence Day, columnist Charles Krauthammer appeared on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show and stated that a waning pride in America is largely because "we teach our children about all the pathologies in the United States and very little about the glories."
To be fair, as Carlson acknowledged this precipitous drop in national faith over the last year, Krauthammer said that some of that ill will is probably associated with President Trump's actions. As an FYI, Krauthammer has been a critic of the President since taking office and, to no surprise, the President has called the columnist "a loser."
However, the exchange quickly turned into blasting educators and education, namely on college campuses. "The left," says Krauthammer, "had a strategy in the 1960's to take over the [educational] institutions... They went into the teaching professions and [have] taken over the system."
In some regards, Krauthammer isn't completely wrong. Many teachers - both in schools and on college campuses - tend to lean to the left. I shared some ideas in March 2016 as to why that's so. It shouldn't be a surprise to many readers that politics continues to permeate its way into our profession. When the cost of educating students continues to rise and state and local governments - largely run by the right - tighten up the purse strings, teachers (like many voting blocs) tend to lean towards where they're heard. And, at least for right now, the left is listening.
I can personally attest to this. I've met with the Governor of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and the running the 6th most populated state, twice. My State Senator, a Republican who I figured would be new enough to his position that he'd begin to make in-roads with some of the teachers in his district, has yet to formally meet with me.And, at least for right now, the Left is listening Click To Tweet
While I begrudge this a bit, to insist that these politics manifest into some blanket brainwashing is an unfair generalization not just for me, but for all educators.
The Common Core standards, which many on the right disdain with an almost absolute fervor, in fact, promotes a very fair knowledge of American civics. While, yes, the trials and tribulations of American history (think slavery, the annihilation of the American Indian population, and subjugation of women, to start) are taught in our classes, to dismiss what is taught as a teaching only "pathologies" and not the "glories" is ignorance.
In my school district, American history occupies 3 of the 7 years of students' social studies curriculum. Beginning in 7th grade, students learn how the hard-fought battle for independence forged the foundation of America - imperfect, yes, but a great one nonetheless. They learn about how George Washington started on this great experiment of a democratic-republic, learning many of the precedents later Presidents would follow. The partisan squabbling between Adams and Jefferson are next, and it'll kick off an era of muffling conflict with compromise after compromise to ensure the persistence of the American experiment. In this story, however, for every 2 steps forward we teach there is a step back - a progress at the expense of someone or something - that must be taught.
It's called fairness and appropriation of a topic.
In 8th grade, students learn about how the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln helped to correct America's greatest foible in the elimination of slavery. During that conversation, students explore what it means for states' rights and form their own conclusions on the cause and aftermath of our greatest armed conflict. As America emerged from that internal strife to become a major player on the world stage, students see the greatness that is American innovation, industry, and immigration. They later learn how America emerged from isolation to save democracy from fascism in World War I. Then to save it from the brink of worldwide economic panic in the Great Depression.
Again, teaching fairly, with every 2 steps of progress, we retrace a step back to ensure we learn about those who didn't move upwards and onwards.
In high school, students learn about how America's overwhelming superiority in World War II helped save freedom and democracy from the verge of decimation. Afterward, they are taught about how the nation continued to build itself as the world's superpower and how it countered the growing communist USSR influence. During this time America had its greatest expanse, building incredible economic growth, integration and civil rights instituted, interstate highway systems, and sending astronauts to the moon.
But, when confronted about Russia's influence in the election, President Trump provided his greatest history lesson in one quote: "You think our country's so innocent?"
My school is hardly alone in that regard. Many school districts across the nation promote a similar curriculum, but they also seek to include stories not just from Europe, as Krauthammer stated, but to include Asia, Africa, and South America in a world that continues to grow more global.
To say that the American civics lesson is an overarching apology for our activity is gross neglect. Instead, it's fair. It's balanced. It's everything Fox News claims to be.
When Carlson asked "how do you right it?" Krauthammer's response was telling. "We need a new generation of teachers who aren't committed to this patho-history... Every civilization is founded on sins. The distinguishes civilizations, is those that rise above it. But you don't hear that story."
Here's a story you won't hear from Krauthammer: Look, if people on the right want to enter the profession, make considerably less pay than their counterparts of equal education, deal with the bureaucracy of it all, be at the whim of political decisions regarding pay, pension, and progress, and, of course, only work 7.5 hours for 9 months, then, by all means, join us! Become educators! There is no political litmus test to become a teacher.
Or else, you can continue to make blanket statements about something as important as education that you don't understand. Enter Tucker Carlson: "No you don't, because they're liars."
Look, America is a great country. it has been. It will continue to be.
I - and many other teachers - fly an American flag outside of our home. We support our armed forces. We believe in free speech. We tout our world influence. We vote. We honor the outcome of the elections. We believe things can and will be better. We participate with, we activate, and we inspire the next generation to continue American exceptionalism.
But our country is not perfect, to expect it to be, or pretend it has been - that is the great American lie. We don't teach that. We teach kids to think for themselves, to draw their own conclusions. We teach them to look at sources and question their bias, validity, and depth. That extends to a primary source from the early 18th century or a 2017 Fox News program. That, to me, is what makes America great - not some silver-lined civics lesson.