Let Teachers Teach History

by Charles Coe

The following letter, endorsed by the NWU-Boston Steering Committee, will be made available to teachers in communities where efforts are being made to require them to teach students a sanitized version of American history.

This letter is in response to parents of school-aged children and to other citizens who want to limit teachers’ efforts to address how people of color have been treated throughout our nation’s history. Those who hold such a view claim they object to “critical race theory” being taught in the public schools.

But that opposition to “critical race theory” is based on a misunderstanding of what that term actually means. It is meant to describe a method used by historians and researchers to examine in a systematic way how slavery, the legal and economic system, social structures, and other factors have impacted the lives of people of color. “Critical race theory” is a tool used in academic and professional settings, not one presented in K-12 educational settings.

In our view, opponents of “critical race theory” are essentially saying that they don’t want their children being taught anything that might make them feel “uncomfortable.” They would rather not have their children learn about slavery, or lynching, or Jim Crow, or this country’s treatment of Native Americans, or anti-Chinese sentiment in California, or the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. But these stories are as much a part of American history as are the many inspiring stories of our triumphs and achievements. Our hard-working teachers care deeply about our children’s future. They’re not trying to “indoctrinate” them; they’re giving them the tools they need to take their place in society as insightful and educated citizens.

We cannot raise children who understand who we are, and who we might become, without looking at our history in all its complexity, with its shortcomings as well as its successes. Only by doing so can our children create a future in which they can learn from the past, and help this nation truly live up to its noble ideal of “Liberty and justice for all.”