Racial Conflict: The Main Motif of History
While nothing about our founders is included in the grades 2-3 category, we do get a story about Martin Luther King and the March on Washington, a biography of Lincoln, and The Story of Ruby Bridges14, which is about one of the black girls attending a white school as part of the federally enforced desegregation of New Orleans. Here we have two texts about the civil rights movement and one on the President who led us through the Civil War. There is only one history reading that discusses a different topic, which is about Apollo 1115. It is peculiar to focus so much on one dimension of our nation’s history.
“… the lesson from lower grades, that our country was built on racism.”
In the grades 4-5 category, there are three US history texts. Two are about the Underground Railroad and Negro League Baseball16. Again, we see a great deal of attention being paid to the history of discrimination in this country. At this point, a student might see US history as being nothing more than a tale of how the evil white man oppressed black people through slavery and segregation. Our country is painted in an even more negative light when there is no mention of how even at our country’s founding, there was great conflict over how to deal with these issues.
The third is the previously discussed A History of Us by Joy Hakim. At one point, Hakim’s series discusses European history prior to America’s founding. Hakim paints an idealistic view of Spain under the rule of the Muslim Moors, claiming everyone could read and that their agriculture was better than what we have in modern times. Hakim points to the crusaders as pillaging and plundering for the sake of religion, while her discussion of the early expansions of Islam fails to mention that these too were accomplished by brute force.17
In grades 6-8, students read four more texts pertaining to America’s history of racial oppression, namely : Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America,”18 Russell Freedman’s Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott19, Ann Petry’s Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad20, and Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Written by Himself.21 Even as the Common Core students finally begin learning about our country’s founders, these readings serve to ensure they still remember the lesson from lower grades, that our country was built on racism.
Grades 9 and 10 are no different. Undoubtedly, Martin Luther King’s letter Why We Can’t Wait22 and his “I have a dream” speech23, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address, are worth reading. Athol Fugard is a great writer, and his “Master Harold”… and the Boys24, which concerns South African apartheid, is a very good play. However, there is still a clear pattern of making racial struggle the defining element of history when in grade level after grade level it has the lion’s share of historical readings.
Most interesting, however, is the choice of Jim Haskins’ Black, Blue and Gray: African Americans in the Civil War, which contains this nugget of insight:
The southern states… believed that any rights not granted to the federal government by the United States Constitution belonged to the states. The northern states… believed that a strong federal government, with the ability to legislate behavior in areas not specifically set forth in the Constitution, was key to the growth and strength of the American republic.25