Nothing in American history has done more to make citizens of the millions who came to these shores from all over the world than public schools. Starting in 1892 as the waves of immigrants grew, each child in public school said, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” (Changes were made in subsequent decades resulting in the pledge we say today.) Why was it important? Because each family had their traditions and ideas and former loyalties. The pledge helped children feel as one, feel American.
The idea and the reality of public education made Americans. Parents put their trust in teachers, recognizing their professionalism and thankful for the free education their children were receiving. Could you imagine what type of nation we would be if every parent could voice an opinion on curriculum? It is far more important in public education that there is room for every child’s voice and that they are heard.
There is not one academic subject that is static. I can hardly understand how my 1st and 3rd grade grandchildren do their math, but I know they get the right answers. Science is a world of expanding knowledge. Literature is always about interpretation; grammar, granted, is mostly fixed. History...that is a subject I know well.
My colleagues Harold Evans and Kevin Baker and I worked for twelve years on a book on American political history. The American Century (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998) was a New York Times best seller. We were particularly proud that no reviewer (and there were scores of reviews in publications on the right, center, and left) found no factual error. Many of the reviews, however, described our book as “revisionist” history, ie. presenting new information and often challenging accepted historical narratives.
At the launch party for the book, General Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State under George W. Bush, asked to speak to me. “I thought I knew Viet Nam and civil rights history very well,” he said. “I learned so much from your book.”
That is history – not a stagnant story but something from which we keep learning as new information and insights arise. General Powell was not too proud to say “he didn’t know.” We had spent twelve years going through archives, papers, publications, court records, unseen photographs, etc, etc. Of course, new information arose and with the new information, new interpretations of what happened and why.
Another history project I worked on was a multi-part series aired on the History Channel with an accompanying book. I always loved the title: America: The Story of Us. Those two letters in “us” are the same as “U.S.” We’ve got to get back to the “us” in “U.S.” and there is no better place to recognize our commonality while expressing our individuality than public schools.
Public school must be a place where ideas are shared and discussed. It must be a place that children and teachers feel safe – and valued. It must be a place parents can express their concerns in a civil and non-demanding manner.
Books are not enemies. Banning books is for fascist and totalitarian states. (And don’t be fooled, any kid with access to an iPad or computer will find what they are looking for.).If parents don’t want this environment for their children, they have every right to place their children in private or religious schools. They do not have the right, in my opinion, to attack or denigrate teachers, administrators and school board members for doing their job.
The school board elections are coming up on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. There are people running this year with extreme views, not truly interested in serving the children but to realize a personal political agenda. The two people I am voting for are Eilleen Gagliano and Vanessa Holland. Between them they have more than 25 years of commitment to education, serving on the PTA, Education Foundation, church outreach and more. They will help to keep education first rate in Warwick.
Warwick, New York