Learning from History

“Learn from History.” Whitewashing history education in public schools (which the lawmakers of many states in the USA, including my home state of Florida, are trying to do) is a really bad idea. Quote of the week:

“Shouldn’t people feel something when they learn how we have a history of freedom for most, but not all in this country? Shouldn’t they know that at one point in our history, women and blacks couldn’t vote? That early versions of the Constitution said the blacks were 3/5ths of a person? That we herded native Americans into reservations by force so we could take their land. That we rounded up people born in America during World War II solely because their parents were Japanese?

“Learning from our past is part of the human experience. I changed as a child and later as an adult when I found out about some of our history. It upset me, but also gave me a better understanding of people who are different from me. I became a more well-rounded person. We shouldn’t deny our children that opportunity.”

(Quoted from a letter to the editor in Sun 1/30/22 edition of Daytona Beach News-Journal. It’s the first one on the page. Titled “Learn from History.”)

I’ve heard some people say they don’t want kids being taught to hate themselves, or being taught to hate America. But facing up to the wrongs of our past isn’t teaching hate. If anything, it’s the ultimate act of love and regard for ourself: Owning all of our parts, in order to change what we need to change.

I see a parallel between society choosing to evolve, and individuals choosing to evolve. When I was a young adult, I got on a path of antisocial behavior and even some criminal behavior (shoplifting, vandalism, doing illegal drugs, and driving under the influence of substances). Finally the pain I felt inside brought me to a recovery program. At first I was only there to try to erase my pain, not to try to become a better person. But I found myself drawn in. Although doing an in-depth moral inventory and making amends wasn’t easy, I was amazed to find how much relief, peace, and deep happiness lay on the other side of the confessions and amends — or even while doing them! Rather than hate myself when I faced my wrongs, I came to like and respect myself, and find myself worth saving. It came hand in hand with a newfound ability to truly love and care about other people as opposed to just using them for my own ends. Ongoing self-reflection and amends have been a steady part of my life ever since.

I have no doubt that the same kind of transformation can happen when a country chooses to engage in honest self-reflection and amends.

Further Reading:

“Reflect on the legacy of slavery at the White House” (Anti-Racism Daily the-ard.com). “Today is Presidents Day, a holiday honoring George Washington, who forced hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children to work from sunrise to sunset, six days a week, for the duration of their lives. Some states also use the day to celebrate Thomas Jefferson, who impregnated a 14-year-old girl he legally owned, and Abraham Lincoln, who ordered 38 Dakota men killed for resisting genocide in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Today’s newsletter explores the white supremacy baked into even the most iconic buildings of this nation.” (By Andrew; editor’s note in ARD’s email newsletter.) And: “Many cultural institutions in D.C. were built by enslaved people, including the White House. President George Washington initially planned to import workers from Europe to complete the ambitious project but had trouble recruiting staff. Instead, they decided to “contract” enslaved laborers from neighboring communities. The government paid the owners, not the enslaved people, for their labor (White House Historical Association). Often, owners would rent out the people they enslaved for extra money. The enslaved person would provide the labor, while the contract holder would pay a wage directly to the owner. … Enslaved people did the bulk of the construction work, from creating the raw materials needed for the project to leveling the ground and building it.” (By Nicole Cardoza, from the main article.)