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Chicago officials call on schools to stop teaching history

Apparently attempting to honor the memory of George Floyd and prevent violence against minorities at the hands of law enforcement officers, a coalition of leaders in the education field and state politicians gathered in a suburb of Chicago yesterday to demand that Illinois public schools stop teaching history classes. Not permanently, mind you. Just until all of the history curricula and textbooks can be updated. But what sort of updates would be required? It sounds like there will be quite a few of them because history classes are both racist and sexist and they apparently “unfairly communicate history.” And before you ask, no. This isn’t a joke. I couldn’t have made this one up if I’d tried. (NBC News Chicago)

Leaders in education, politics and other areas gathered in suburban Evanston Sunday to ask that the Illinois State Board of Education change the history curriculum at schools statewide, and temporarily halt instruction until an alternative is decided upon.

At a news conference, State Rep. LaShawn K. Ford said current history teachings lead to a racist society and overlook the contributions of women and minorities.

Before the event Sunday, Rep. Ford’s office distributed a news release “Rep. Ford Today in Evanston to Call for the Abolishment of History Classes in Illinois Schools,” in which Ford asked the ISBOE and school districts to immediately remove history curriculum and books that “unfairly communicate” history “until a suitable alternative is developed.”

This wasn’t some group of random community activists doing this. The crowd included actual public school teachers and administrators, along with elected officials from state and local government. The featured speaker, LaShawn Ford, is a member of the state assembly. Ford is already introducing a bill calling on the state Board of Education to suspend all history classes in elementary schools because they “lead to white privilege and a racist society.”

Depending on which era of American history is being discussed, the facts are on Ford’s side, at least in terms of the proportion of stories about women and minorities. If you’re studying any period from the founding of the nation up through the Civil War, the history books are full of a lot of stories about white males. But the sticking point here is that most of that history was taking place in a time when minorities were viewed as property by white people and women were given very little air time in public debates. Most of the news was being made by white men.

I will further agree that there were accomplishments by both Black people and women during that era that don’t wind up in our history books. And even in later periods, coverage of things like the civil rights movement in the 40s, 50s and 60s still doesn’t receive as much attention in our schools’ history curricula as it could. I didn’t learn much about many of these historically significant facts until long after I’d graduated high school.

So there’s clearly room for improvement. But that takes time, not to mention the resources required to develop new lesson plans and print new textbooks. So in the meantime, you’re just going to stop teaching history entirely? Is it really better to graduate some number of seniors every year that have learned nothing of history as opposed to having some gaps in their knowledge?

Surely there are other options. Teachers shouldn’t be forced to follow any given textbook line for line with no ability to enhance their students’ learning experience. What’s stopping them from coming up with some extra coursework covering the civil rights movement, the Underground Railroad, or significant contributions from women in earlier years? Oh, wait… I know the answer to that one. It’s the state government that’s stopping them. Most states have tied the hands of the schools by forcing mandatory standardized testing and a rigid framework for what is or isn’t acceptable in the classroom.

If you want to improve the depth and breadth of the education that K-12 students are receiving, perhaps you could lift some of those restrictions and let teachers tailor their classes to the needs of the students. Or is that just more conservative crazy talk?