The recent suggestion by Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) that Wyoming’s social science curriculum must be reformed dismissing the dangerous notion of “identity politics” and stemming an unhealthy slide towards “liberal education” was for me a harsh reality check. Last summer, I spent hours, if not days, exploring social science programs in several Wyoming school districts to assess whether our schools are preparing students to become the kind of global citizens they will come from. more and more need to be. I never considered the possibility of a push to “reform” our education system in a decidedly backward direction.
I believe that students from predominantly white rural backgrounds should be educated to be competitive in our rapidly changing world. (Let’s face it, many if not most of our children will leave Wyoming.) To be effective citizens, our students need a social justice education as much as students from ethnically diverse institutions.
Okay, I know, “social justice education” evokes fears of indoctrination or brainwashing – teaching our children that a particular narrow and intolerant view is the only possible way to see the world. .
A review of the academic writing on social justice education, however, reveals something entirely different – an addiction to experimentation, critical thinking, and open-mindedness to teach students how to engage. in real world social issues. The approach is taken directly from the playbook of influential early 20th century philosopher and educator John Dewey. The idea is to help students’ share and learn from the experiences of others, reflect on their own experiences and those of others to make sense of the larger structural systems of advantages and disadvantages, and create new ones. meanings for themselves â, according to the 2016 edition ofâ Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice â.
Barely top-down, force-fed anti-American propaganda we were told to fear. Our students can be trained to consider controversial topics in the classroom. When we allow them to debate, research, and write essays, they can draw their own conclusions about the existence of white privilege or systemic racism. They can even probe for themselves whether Donald Trump will save the world from a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, or whether President Joe Biden is senile and being prompted by an earpiece by former President Obama.
As a former full-time and currently part-time resident of Pinedale, I was particularly interested in the social science offerings of the Sublette County School District # 1. To give a few examples of my findings, the program d The district’s American history covers slavery and its demise, but fails to point out that it was the cruel and inhumane exploitation of slaves in cotton production that sped up the growth of factories and catapulted a poor nation into a financial colossus. global. I’m sure we would all prefer a more noble story of American capitalism, but our program should represent reality, even when that reality is bleak.
Sublette County children study the role of the federal government in promoting civil rights African Americans in the 1960s. But, at least according to the program, they will not understand how federal policies in the aftermath of World War II restricted opportunities. for blacks. As whites embarked on an unprecedented path to accumulating wealth, legally enshrined laws and covenants, especially in the South, prevented blacks from buying homes in areas where banks lent. And while the GI Bill paved the way for white veterans to get a college education, historically black colleges, especially in the South, were inundated with applicants and there just wasn’t the same higher education for them. black veterans return.
I spoke to the Pinedale School Board last September with some suggestions on how to scale up their curriculum to better coach students in negotiating our changing world. I received a polite acknowledgment from the superintendent, but no expression of interest from anyone in the school district.
Haroldson is not alone in his campaign to disinfect history. Bills are pending in New Hampshire, Oklahoma and West Virginia to ban the promotion of “divisive concepts” in the classroom. Arkansas lawmakers have sought to prohibit classes, events, or activities that encourage “divisiveness, resentment, or social justice for” particular groups of people. And the United States isn’t the only country where government efforts to reinterpret history are underway. Consider the revisionist effort in Poland to punish historians and bury the facts that hamper the government’s resolve to exonerate the role of Polish and ethnic Poles during the Nazi occupation.
Haroldson is right about one thing: there are “two sides to the slavery discussion.” The first is that the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, marked the end of white supremacy and the oppression of African Americans, who from that point on unhindered their pursuit of full citizenship and economic progress. The second view is that slavery has been abolished and our institutions, laws and policies have evolved to disenfranchise and marginalize African Americans, so that until the 21st century, their accumulation of wealth and their economic opportunities are woefully inferior to those of whites.