A ‘patriotic education’ in Kansas means telling the truth about diverse ‘heroes’

When World War II veterans from Mexican immigrant families weren't allowed to join their local American Legion Post in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, they started their own league. (Submitted by Gil and Patricia Castro, of Kansas City, Kansas, to Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Genovevo (Gene T.) Teodoro Chávez Ortíz, Ed.D., is a community historian and archivist.

On Sept. 17, 2020 at the National Archives Museum, President Donald Trump warned against a “radical movement” that has emerged from “decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools.” He said he was establishing a new commission dedicated to promoting “patriotic education” to counter what he called revisionist ideas about the nation’s founding. In his speech, he vowed to ensure “our heroes will never be forgotten” and “our youth will be taught to love America.” He boasted that the National Endowment for the Humanities “has awarded a grant to support the development of a pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history.”

This position seems like federal government overreach to me.

I very much like the mission statement of the Kansas State Department of Education regarding the study of history, government and social studies: “The Kansas Standards for history, government, and social studies prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, engaged citizens as they enrich their communities, state, nation, world, and themselves.”

Kansas Standards provide an outline that is intended to assist in unit design and to provide a uniform, comprehensive guide for instruction. They are not intended to be a state-mandated curriculum for how and when content is taught. If a social studies teacher decides to be inclusive of diverse points of view and diverse ethnic groups, she has the freedom to do just that. Thoughtful consideration of potential “heroes” can be decided by students based on criteria that they establish with guidance from the teacher, not by some federally mandated “patriotic curriculum.”

James W. Loewen, in “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” criticizes modern American high school history textbooks for containing incorrect information about people like Christopher Columbus, and lies and inaccuracies regarding the dealings between the Europeans and American Indians, and their often deceptive and inaccurate teachings told about America’s commerce in slavery.

As an Hispanic history educator in Kansas, I am compelled to share my knowledge about the role of Kansas in connecting the Hispanic world with trade opportunities with producers of manufactured goods along the Santa Fe Trail. The truth about the trail is that it was not a one-way thoroughfare to the West but rather a two-way international commercial route that made Hispanic entrepreneurs the dominant force in the trade with the ever expansionist Americans.

 

I could go on with many other examples of how the important counter-narratives have been largely ignored by history curricula in Kansas and across the nation. Other examples include how school segregation affected Mexican students in Kansas City, Kansas, and how Saturnino Alvarado and his family brought equity to public education long before Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka.

And I would highlight how brave World War II GIs challenged discrimination by starting their own American Legion Post when they were not allowed to join an active post because of the color of their skin.

 

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 charge the federal government with ensuring that students in the United States get equal opportunity for publicly financed education and provides funding to school districts under the Every Student Succeeds Act and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The U.S. Department of Education can make recommendations for teaching strategies and materials, but states and local districts have the final choice on curricula.

I strongly suggest that Kansas educators, from the Kansas State Board of Education down to kindergarten teachers, jealously guard intellectual freedom in our schools. The American Library Association defines intellectual freedom as “the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas without restriction” and says it is an “integral component of a democratic society.”

As an educator for more than 50 years, it seems to me that we must challenge the next generation of learners to think critically, seek truth and decide for themselves who deserves to be called American heroes.

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