As a follow-up to the Trail of Tears controversy lots of people have tried to explain it as an act of ignorance. Others have voiced that ignorance is no excuse. I haven’t seen anyone suggest it was an act intended to bring hurt to our Native-American citizens. In my mind the truth involves admitting that we don’t teach enough history in our school and we don’t spend enough time considering the consequences of our actions. Both of these can be addressed by our public school systems.
If I were made King of Schools for a day I would wave my magic chalk holder and do at least these two things:
1. Create more time in which teachers can teach. So much time is wasted by our political obsession with mandatory testing that not enough remains for teaching and developing critical thinking. Students don’t have time to think about anything when all they are told is they must absorb facts so they can pass a test that both they and the school will be graded on.
2. The public at large needs to ease up on its desire to limit what history is taught. Several years ago I had a coffee drinking friend who went to his granddaughter’s 11th grade US History class in Hillsboro and raised hell because the class had a discussion on some aspect of history he thought wasn’t appropriate. He thought it wasn’t appropriate because it caused students to consider aspects of our history that challenged what he believed. To me that teacher was doing exactly what I would want all teachers at all levels to do, encourage independent thinking with the arrival at an independent truth. In a word that is called, education.
History, by its very nature is controversial. The Trail of Tears is but one incident in our history that is ugly at best. But it also needs said that in the context of its time the removal of the Indians to the West was a popular idea. So that means we need to be honest about a decision one of our presidents made but also the willingness of the American people to let him get away with it. Don’t forget we have had his photo on our $20 bill since the early 1800s and when it was recently suggested that be changed, his defenders came out of hiding. (I wonder what a member of the Cherokee Tribe thinks when he pulls a Jackson out of his jeans pocket?) So, to some of us Jackson is a mass murderer. To others he is held in high praise as the heroic figure who saved America at the Battle of New Orleans. For a student to be truly educated they have to be made aware of it all and then allowed to sort it out for themselves. Burying the bad serves no good purpose.
America and the American people have done a ton of good things in our relatively short history. But we’ve done enough bad that sometimes the good gets pushed to the rear and buried. We as Americans have to acknowledge both parts of our story. We have to admit and acknowledge the bad and make it the measure of our becoming better.
A lot of the world sees us as evil, egotistical, greedy, aggressive, and hypocritical. Truth told, much of that is true and we would be best served by fessing up and flying right. We need to work on becoming the example that other nations genuinely want to be. We need to lead by example, and we need to be honest about what our example looks like in the mirror.