Let’s Talk at School About America’s Complicated History

Gustavo Damian Danemann Soto, Editor-in-Chief

   According to the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of registered voters believe that it makes the United States stronger to acknowledge its historical flaws (pewresearch.org). The logical conclusion would therefore be to begin harnessing an analytical eye towards all aspects of this first-world power during one’s educational career. Nevertheless, as this country’s current media cycle often trafficks in polar extremes where half of Americans argue that media bias has reached a point where it is hard to sort out the facts, debates regarding the intersections between education and the influence of American history have only strayed further from evidence-based conclusions (statista.com). 

   Ideological campaigning and simplification of the conversation surrounding history and schooling brings no form of advancement. There may be no such thing as a solution or complete agreement on the matter, but both discussing with and listening to all opinions on the matter, rather than limiting the scope of concepts in the conversation, allows for a more comprehensive understanding to be achieved. Reducing the subjects and materials discussed in schools creates a less informed and more gullible population, one that may not be able to understand this nation beyond their personal beliefs. As a nation and especially in schools, Americans must discuss the gray areas, the complicated truths, and potentially unfixable conflicts in order for progress to align with nationwide concerns.

   For one, the politicization of school curricula has put personal opinion before a quality education. As seen in the recent rejection of an AP African American Studies course this past January in Florida, subjects such as Black feminism and sexuality-related content were deemed the pushing of a political agenda, and therefore unworthy of being discussed in high schools. If the mere inclusion of subjects (without the consideration of the reason and approach to them) are rejected because of such an assumption, where should the limits of what schools of each grade level can and cannot instruct begin? If the mission of the education system is to prepare youth to enter American society, one that both statistically and ideologically speaking has only grown in its diversity, the subjects examined in the classroom must expand, rather than shrink (forbes.com).

  Similarly, the increasing attempt to ban books across American libraries and schools has challenged youth’s access to published information. According to the American Library Association (ALA), “In 2022, ALA tracked the highest number of censorship reports since the association began compiling data about library censorship more than 20 years ago… a 38 percent increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted in 2021.” Considering America has always prided itself in championing freedom, witnessing the presence of a common characteristic of authoritarian regimes such as book banning should be seen as considerably more concerning than an advanced studies course discussing the feminist movement. Regardless of personal opinion, having public access to written texts is a precious gift citizens must continue to have at their disposal without having to worry about their book choices being reduced (ala.org).

   Following the state signing of a bill banning classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to grade 3, Florida’s Board of Education has approved to expand the law all the way to grade 12, according to the Associated Press (apnews.com). According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 22 percent of high school students in the United States do not identify as heterosexual (cdc.gov). Theoretically, then, this ban means more than one in every five high schoolers can not discuss their sexuality on their own campuses. If education is to remain focused on curricular improvement and cultivating important values — chief among them respect, empathy, and freedom of expression 

—limiting conversation regarding the very existence of a global demographic may be creating the opposite effect. Furthermore, detailing potentially polarizing subjects in the classroom is clearly preferred over allowing unreliable sources and biased media outlets to do so.

   Those supporting the banning of teaching a particular subject argue that the challenged content may not be suitable for minors or may easily indoctrinate them regarding certain concepts. Frankly, the instruction of remotely any part of history can be deemed indoctrination if taught through a biased and agenda-based frame of reference, yet this risk shouldn’t mean that hot-button issues must be ignored; on the contrary, this makes it all the more important to present objective and evidence-driven information to our youth, allowing them to make up their own minds based on the provision of a neutral perspective. Teaching about slavery, genocide, or war does not inherently cause students to engage in these acts. Likewise, not discussing subjects pertaining to activist movements or homosexuality won’t make fewer students belong to these communities. It is by providing youth with information about rough patches in history that a more comprehensive understanding of these subjects is achieved. What must be expected from a history class is simply an all-encompassing study of chain reactions and the processes behind them, which must not necessarily equate to martyrization.

  History Teacher Eduardo Hernández said, “Is it the government’s place to input certain ideologies, rather than allow for self-exploration? People are allowed to have freedom of speech and yet the courts say that certain types of speech can be restricted. Is there a need to clarify previous rulings to the current era?” 

   Restricting content access or discussion and keeping particular subjects in the taboo area creates unnecessary conflict and harms all, including our youth. Parents are entitled to be concerned over their children’s education, but if it is decided that action must be taken on a subject to be taught, the approach must be to increase staff training rather than limit speech. From a legislative perspective, one may even argue that the aforementioned decisions are an infringement on several amendments to the Constitution, including the first and fourteenth amendment (freedom of speech and equal protection under the law). As written in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, taught in English Teacher Jennifer Huszar’s AP Literature class, “America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain.”