We can all learn by listening to each other
Letter to the Editor: I enjoyed reading Dr. Norman Hoffman’s opinion piece in the Friday, November 12, issue. I appreciate his concerns about the teaching of history in our public schools, his experiences as a public school student, and his reference to Critical Race Theory (CRT). I am prompted to comment on three things he wrote about.
First, CRT. CRT may be very sophisticated scholarship not taught at the high school level, but it is taught in universities that train teachers, and those teachers teach our kids. Furthermore, CRT affects the rest of us, as it has influenced the writings of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DeAngelo, among others. Dr. Hoffman may disagree with me, but I believe there is good evidence that in many public schools across America, as a result of thinkers like Kendi and DeAngelo, our children are being taught that whiteness is bad, that it always equals unearned privilege, that white children should be ashamed of their whiteness and that they should make up for the crimes of their ancestors. The end result of such indoctrination of our children is to divide us into tribes, each with grievances towards the other tribe; i.e., tribalism. Read about what happened in Bosnia or Rwanda in the 1990s to see where tribalism leads.
Second, the Tulsa Race Massacre. Absolutely shameful, despicable. But I am surprised, Dr. Hoffman, that a man with a doctorate just learned about it in the last year or so. You must not be from Oklahoma. Had you been an Oklahoman, you would be pleased to know that your state formed a commission in 1996 (25 years ago) to study the massacre, and its 2001 report led to reparations for survivors, economic investment in the Black neighborhood that was destroyed, and creation of a park in memory of the victims. Furthermore, Oklahoma has required the teaching of the massacre in its public schools since 2002 (19 years ago).
Third, and finally, I want to tell of my own public school history-learning experience that differs from Dr. Hoffman’s. I do not know how old Dr. Hoffman is, or where he grew up, but I’m 64 years old, and I grew up in Dalton, Georgia. In middle school, I went on a field trip to New Echota, Georgia, the capital of the Cherokee Nation prior to the Removal by the man on the $20 bill. This would have been in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I’ll never forget that day in New Echota: the courtroom, the legislature building, and the shop where the Cherokee Phoenix, was printed. I remember my teachers gave me a very sobering account of what happened in 1838. A good, noble, civilized people had their lands stolen by greedy white people — that is what I was taught. I don’t recall any sugar-coating — and this at a public school in the heart of Dixie only a few years after integration.
Yes, history is complicated. And someone is going to tell it and may tell it accurately, or inaccurately, or to deceive, or for filthy lucre, or self-aggrandizement, or foolishly, or wisely. May we try to listen to one another, and learn from one another, realizing that we are flawed human beings.
Steven Snowden Crider
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Mr. Crider, please give us sources of your assertion that in "many" classrooms and schools "our children are being taught that whiteness is bad, that it always equals unearned privilege, that white children should be ashamed of their whiteness and that they should make up for the crimes of their ancestors."
As a former teacher and friend of many teachers, I find this hard to believe without proof. No one I've ever known, not even in the heyday of some pretty odd literary criticism, has taught such rubbish.
The "tribalism" Mr. Crider fears is just what I saw as a teenager in segregated, racist Selma, Alabama, from December 1963, when my mother, my siblings and I moved there, through summer 1967, when I left to go to college in Birmingham 90 minutes away. I saw more of it there. The "tribes" of Selma were racist white people, nearly everyone I knew, in school, in church, and in the community.
Children have built-in B.S. detectors and strong ethics; prejudice and hypocrisy have to be taught by example. Thankfully, my life experiences in rural Kentucky before moving to Selma resulted in my hating racism, but I certainly never hated myself or my family for being white. My grandparents were racist, but I loved them dearly nonetheless and I always will.
Mr. Crider is fortunate in having been taught about the Trail of Tears and having traveled to New Echota, Georgia, on a field trip. Yesterday in a meeting that included a senior at a local high school who is one of the best students in her class, I asked her what she and her peers were taught about the Cherokees. She recalled nothing.
It is shameful that teaching all of the history that happened within the borders of what is now the United States seems to be so spotty. The mandated teaching all of history, including the tragedies and achievements of people of color and Indigenous People alongside tragedies and achievements of whites, would result in more of the listening that Mr. Crider correctly wishes to see. Not only listening, but empathy.