Teach The Hard Truths

On Feb. 18, Oklahoma’s House Education Committee voted 11–4 to ban the teaching of AP United States History in the state’s public high schools. The course, lawmakers argued, “reflected a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history.”

Since the education committee brought it up, let’s talk revisionism, shall we?

I grew up on Bainbridge Island. It’s the quintessential idyllic small town, boasting a quaint and immaculately-maintained town center, pristine green spaces and spectacular public schools.

But it’s not perfect. In 1942, Japanese-Americans from Bainbridge Island were the first in the nation to be sent to internment camps.
When I was growing up, I learned about internment in school. My teachers invited island residents who’d been interned to come speak to us about their experiences. When I studied World War II I learned not just about Auschwitz, but about Manzanar and Minidoka too. It wasn’t until I left the island to come to Seattle U that I figured out that my experience wasn’t necessarily the norm.

Sure, the U.S.’s history of internment is unflattering. It’s also true. Most of us end up having to grapple with our country’s checkered history at one point or another, but for some reason, public schools rarely require it of their students.

Having to confront my hometown’s baggage didn’t scar me. It didn’t make me hate the U.S., a nation towards which I am both grateful and critical.
Being able to engage with positives and negatives in tandem and accept that both could be true is a sign of intellectual maturity. As public discourse is increasingly dominated by cycles of reciprocal outrage, we need more high school graduates who are capable of this kind of nuanced thinking. Rejecting curricula that treat U.S. history with the honesty and sobriety it requires isn’t going to get us there.

Caroline Ferguson