The past few years have witnessed some of the most divisive public debates about American history in recent memory. Newspapers are filled with op-eds about the dangers and opportunities of reconfiguring American history around such dates as 1619 and 1776. State legislatures across the country have passed laws banning some of the most important and difficult history related to the story of race and American slavery. Parents have filled seats at school council meetings worried about the teaching of Critical Race Theory. Hundreds of monuments honoring the Confederacy have been removed from public spaces across the country.
These debates serve as a reminder that history and how we think about our collective identity as Americans remains vitally important. They also remind us of the importance of history education and, more specifically, how we as educators engage our students.
This is a critical moment to be teaching American history and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Our students need to think deeply about the meaning and significance of key moments in American history and why they remain so controversial. Students today have the opportunity to think as historians through primary source analysis, visits to historic sites, access to digital resources, and respectful conversation with their peers. Teachers have the responsibility to introduce students to a diverse range of historical actors and events and to encourage them to consider the past from multiple perspectives. Most importantly, a history classroom must leave sufficient room for students to think critically and arrive at their own conclusions based on a careful reading of sources that are reflective of their own unique identity.
This is what I believe.