September 25, 2021

Teaching our Real History

By Stephen Tuttle | July 31, 2021

The Washington Post got it partially right: racism is a divisive issue in Traverse City. The “tearing the city apart” component was more than a little hyperbolic.

Their recent article connected the appalling “slave trading” on social media undertaken by teenagers from local Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) to an equity resolution hurriedly produced by the school system. That was followed by overblown negative reactions of some parents.  

That resolution, now rewritten thrice in response to various objections, tried to serve multiple masters, but nothing involving race or racism will satisfy the dissident parents. They believe any discussion of race at all is part of critical race theory (CRT), which they consider an indoctrinating abomination poisoning their children.  

The real debate here is this: Are we willing to acknowledge and teach our real history?

Because it cannot be accurately discussed or taught without including slavery and racism, both of which are codified in our Constitution.  

The third paragraph of Article I, Section 2, which discusses apportionment for purposes of taxation and congressional representation, requires slaves to be counted and valued at three-fifths of a person. Not quite done, Article IV, Section 2, requires states to return runaway slaves, or, as the document puts it, a “... Person held to Service or Labor ...” from whence they came. Those aren't the ravings of some modern-day leftist but blatant racism in our foundational document.  

The reason those Founders were willing to appease slave owners was commerce. You simply cannot discuss early America without emphasizing that the economy was highly dependent on slavery, and the economy of the South was entirely dependent on slavery.

That isn't CRT propaganda; it's fact. 

We could, one supposes, go back to an idealized American history that borders on delusion. You know, the one where Columbus “discovered” America, and we had a lovely first Thanksgiving with local indigenous people, and we then conquered the rest of the country because God ordained it, and then we had a Civil War over state's rights, but everything was mostly fine with just a few minor glitches. 

That narrative was mostly lies when it was taught in the classroom decades ago and remains mostly lies today. Columbus never set foot in North America and was likely the first European to bring slaves to the New World. Diseases Europeans brought killed 90 percent of North America's indigenous population by accident because they had no immunity to them. There was no ordination nor Divine encouragement for us to expand westward, and the term “manifest destiny,” which we used to justify the taking of lands already occupied, was coined by a newspaper editor.

If we don't include all of that as part of our history, we are ignoring a significant part of our reality.

Even now, some states mandate a bastardized version of our history. Some southern states, including Texas, give very short shrift to slavery as a cause of the Civil War and focus, instead, on so-called “state's rights” and unfair taxation. 

But we know exactly why states seceded and started the war because they all detailed it in documents called a “Declaration of Causes.” Here's a small sample: 

Mississippi’s stated, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.” Georgia's read, “The reason was the North's fixed purpose to limit, restrain, and finally abolish slavery in the U.S. where it exists.”

And Texas? Perhaps one of the most appalling documents ever created by an American government at any level: “The servitude of the African race, as existing in these states, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations.”

For parents to vehemently protest those parts of our history being taught is absurd. But it's become even more bizarre than that. Parents who believe teaching an honest version of American history is somehow subversive and will damage their children have decided TCAPS' equity resolution is just code for CRT. We've actually come to the point where people have convinced themselves a word like “belonging” is negative and subversive.

TCAPS has not, is not, and will not teach CRT. Hopefully, the district will provide students with an accurate accounting of early America that includes our economic dependence on slavery, our reluctance to end the practice, and the roles race and racism have played and are playing in our country, in addition to the many positive steps we've taken to improve and grow. 

It is not antithetical to our values to acknowledge we are a work in progress and that we continue to struggle with racial issues. Supporting a version of our history that is figuratively and literally whitewashed does a disservice to our children and our future. 


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