Teach history fully, but don’t preach

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, July 6, 2021

There’s much to dislike on both sides of the increasingly shrill debate over so-called Critical Race Theory, and we’re saddened to see Isle of Wight’s public schools become a battleground of a national culture war flamed by opportunistic politicians in search of votes from a polarized electorate.

We take Superintendent James Thornton at his word that schoolchildren in Isle of Wight County Schools won’t be taught what to think and how to feel about race relations. That clearly would cross the line into social engineering, which is outside the bounds of an educator’s jurisdiction.

A public school has one job: to impart knowledge. And on the subject of America’s complex history of racial discrimination, the lessons should be thorough and unvarnished. No parent should fear a teacher’s honest account of history, even the most unpleasant chapters.

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Nor should those who believe that America has yet to fully reconcile its history of slavery with lingering vestiges of discrimination expect classroom teachers to tell students how they ought to think or feel as a result of their knowledge of history. That’s indoctrination, not education.

Freedom of thought is every bit as precious as freedom of speech or religion. Group-think, no matter how honorable the intentions of its practitioners, undermines freedom, the bedrock of American greatness, to which we still subscribe without apology, even in an era when it’s becoming unfashionable.

Stephen Covey, the self-help author, wisely said that every human “has four endowments — self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom … The power to choose, to respond, to change.”

America has an impressive, if imperfect and ongoing, track record of correcting its mistakes. Public schools should teach that history authentically, then entrust their students — tomorrow’s citizenry — to carry this grand experiment in freedom and democracy forward.