Parents Are Not History Teachers

Indiana Republican State Sen. Scott Baldwin is walking back comments about the need for history teachers to remain impartial in their classrooms, even when teaching the history of Nazism. This comes as another state considers legislation that addresses unfounded claims ranging from the teaching of Critical Race Theory to white students being taught self-hate in light of the history of slavery and white supremacy.

Leading a discussion with a group of history educators at the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C.

It goes without saying that very little of what is being discussed in school board meetings and legislatures across the country has anything to do with what takes place in our k-12 history classrooms.

But what really has me reeling this morning is the provision in the Indiana legislation that would allow parents to form committees to review school history curricula. As a history teacher with 20+ years experience I find this to be absurd.

The proposal rests on an unstated assumption that parents are in the dark as to what their students are learning or that they have no contact with their children’s teachers. Of course they do. Many school districts now post assignments, grades, and other useful information online. At my last school parents could spend hours reading through history assignments as well as the wide range of resources that I use. Schools hold back-to-school events at the beginning of the year and there is always a way to schedule a parent-teacher meeting.

The most obvious problem with this proposal, however, is that the vast majority of parents have absolutely zero qualifications to assess their school’s history curriculum. That does not mean that they don’t have the right to ask questions or ask for clarification re: certain assignments and lessons. In fact, the vast majority of teachers welcome a healthy relationship with parents, but teachers need to be acknowledged and respected as professionals. I’ve always appreciated parents who are interested in what their students are learning and I welcome their input and their right to contact a department chair or other administrator, but I would never agree to work with parents hovering over my shoulders.

Indeed, many of us have advanced degrees in education, history, and related subjects. We continue to take advantage of opportunities to deepen our content knowledge through regular reading and professional development workshops. Parents have none of this training. It is an insult to expect trained professionals to have to answer to parents, who have been driven into a frenzy as a result of the overly politicized rhetoric from elected officials like Baldwin and many others.

Unfortunately, this–along with ongoing COVID pandemic–is contributing to teachers leaving the profession and too few college graduates considering a career in the classroom.

Right now parents across the country should be finding ways to say thank you to their local teachers, not because they need it, but because they deserve it.

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8 comments… add one
  • Christopher Barry Jan 16, 2022 @ 7:34

    Thank you.
    –Chris Barry
    APUSH teacher
    Irvington HS, Irvington, NY

    • Kevin Levin Jan 16, 2022 @ 7:45

      You are very welcome, Chris.

  • msb Jan 13, 2022 @ 7:31

    I hope the suffering of Mr Johnson’s granddaughter is a unique case. I followed the education of my niece and nephew throughout their journey from kindergarten to college, and was often struck with admiration of the increase in quality and content from my own school days (a very long time ago), which were boring and superficial in the extreme.

    The “kids'” often told me about exciting work they were doing, including independent research. It sounded to me as if education had greatly improved in methods and effectiveness.

    More power to the teachers who could inspire my niece and nephew with excitement about their work and deeper interest in the subjects under study. I had to wait til college – or even graduate school – to find real challenge and enjoyment in my studies.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 13, 2022 @ 8:32

      I am sure her suffering ended long ago. 🙂

      I wish we spent as much time applauding teachers for their commitment and creativity as we do stoking fear and anger to gain political points at the expense of educators.

      • Msb Jan 14, 2022 @ 0:51

        Hear, hear!

  • Veritas Jan 11, 2022 @ 16:28

    Why do I get the feeling that Jimmy would have led the charge against “weird, mind bending stuff” like Brown vs The Board of Education.

  • Jimmy Johnson Jan 11, 2022 @ 6:41

    I am sure you are as dedicated to your profession as any instructor out there. While I don’t agree with much of what you have to say, your passion for your work comes thru loud and clear. However, from my experience with my grand children’s private schools, and their college experiences, as far as history is concerned, THEY ARE TAUGHT NOTHING! My grand children went to private schools, and as a history major, I was always interested in what the kids were being taught. In, what was called Social Studies (history) I looked up in their books to see what was being taught about the War of Northern Aggression. One paragraph Kevin, one stinking paragraph! That was it! In high school, one paragraph was given over to the seminal event that was the Civil War! I asked her teacher why? She said the topic was too controversial, and the book publishers had decided to leave that information out! The book publishers!! In college my grand boys were into engineering, and computers and such so their history studies were almost non-existent. My grand daughter however, was in a more liberal field of study. In her Political Science class the instructor asked her students to write a critique of Obama’s speech on race. The directions were there were no right or wrong answer, just an evaluation of the speech. She received an “F”. She called me right away to see what she should do. She went to the instructor to see why she failed. The teacher told her that she would have to re-write her paper. Why?? My grand daughter had written a negative assessment of the speech, and the school couldn’t afford to have that in their files! This is not education Kevin, it is indoctrination! And parents today are waking up to the fact that their kids are being taught LGBTQ stuff, and too many other weird mind bending, gender studies. Parents have every right to tell the teachers what to teach their kids. After all, they are paying for it!

    • Kevin Levin Jan 11, 2022 @ 6:46

      I can’t speak to what happened to your granddaughter, but I suspect there is more to what happened than what you include here. Parents have a right to question or seek clarification, but if parents are given the ability “to tell the teachers what to teach their kids” than you can just get rid of the teachers. Even better, why not just home school children.

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