What’s Fair in History Class?

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The news article I’m mostly referring to today came to me via a friend on Facebook, but it was published on the PBS Newshour website. I was a little disappointed that PBS would support an article that was missing a huge necessary element of teaching and learning history.

On the surface, this appears to be a well-written, thoughtful opinion about how history has been taught incorrectly and our heroes aren’t heroes at all. The article even postulates that American history teachers have been lying to their students. Columbus and his successors kidnapped, murdered, enslaved, and even endorsed the rape of indigenous people in the Americas. In fact, the article even creates a connection with Dr. Martin Luther King — both Columbus and Dr. King have “personal” holidays, but Dr. King is presented as having higher moral character.

Ignoring allegations that have been levied throughout the years that Dr. King had his own moral failings, I still don’t think that teaching students about historical monstrosities through the lens of modern moral superiority does anyone any justice, either.

History has to be taught in context. 600 years ago, modern American and European men would probably be considered weak and effeminate. Serving one’s sovereign without question was a sign of good character. The rules of war and conquest were different back then. The list could go on and on.

I am not suggesting that we continue teaching fallacies: I, in fact, have occasionally referred to Pilgrim’s first harvest festival as the “original American redneck party” because it turns out that there were a bunch of (presumably) drunk men shooting guns for sport. It’s a conclusion I came to after reading a historical artifact at Plimoth.org.

I am simply advocating that we teach history in context, understanding that cultural norms and expectations have changed. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to condone, but we do have to accept these differences and teach them appropriately. In my opinion, teaching history in any other way is irresponsible.

 

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past, what are your thoughts on the history and the controversy of the holiday?

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Why Thanksgiving?

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In about five days, the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. In recent years, we seem to collectively become awkward with this holiday:

  • Five-ish years ago, retail stores began pushing Christmas sales right after Halloween to raise profits. This year, it appears that an increasing number of people have followed the trend and put up their Christmas decorations as soon as they removed the ones from Halloween.
  • Most of us now have to admit that our forefathers’ attitude of superiority and conquest causes us some measure of discomfort. While the Pilgrims opened a new era for Anglo-Saxons and America has been a great place to live and a game-changer for the world, this same series of events precipitated the decimation of thousands of unique cultures through the spread of disease, war, and brute force. From our cultural perspective, it looks like an overgrown case of “finders-keepers, and it doesn’t sit well in our psyches.
  • America’s current rhetorical about immigrants — legal and illegal — can be offensive to those in our country who are not of Anglo-Saxon descent. There is little in the holiday for people of other cultural heritages to connect to.
  • The traditional stories are actually wrong. The Peanuts movie is great for touchy-feelies, but it perpetuates myths about what really happened and why. These same myths have been perpetuated in schools throughout the nation for decades. (After doing a little historical research, I have sometimes found myself referring to the harvest festival as the first drunken redneck party in America.)

 

Since the Thanksgiving holiday is so politically charged and drags so much baggage with it, why bother to celebrate?

Here are my reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving:

  1. No matter how dysfunctional we may think our family is, they are our family. We have blood and common life experiences that tie us together. Even the most reclusive human is wired for some connectedness. Without a sense of connection, mental health suffers. We need each other, no matter how much we manage to irritate each other.
  2. Traditions connect us to our collective past and are passed down to future generations. Traditions create a sense of security and help us define where we fit. Traditions ground us and stabilize us.
  3. If we decide to leave all of the negativity and baggage surrounding the holiday alone for one day, setting at least one day a year aside to be grateful for all of the good that surrounds us is a beautiful thing. We pick and choose our focus, and our focus determines what occupies our mental and emotional energy. We can actually reduce the draining effect of negativity in our lives through practicing gratitude and appreciation. (Sure, the bad things are still there, but they don’t look nearly as bad.)

Do you have a Thanksgiving tradition or gratitude routine or habit that is special to you? Share in the comments!

Boy Scout Girls

379001Before I begin my post today, I would like to make it clear that I am aware that girls have been boy scouts for a while — generally at the venture level. So, in making the decision to open boy scouts to more generally include girls, it does fit (at least to a degree) with past practices.

I have seen several social media posts praising the decision and focusing on what a wonderful step forward this is for girls.

But what about the boys?

Yes, our history is largely composed of the exploits of white Anglo-Saxon men. Yes, women and people of other ethnic backgrounds have needed to struggle and fight to find equal footing, and there are indicators that we haven’t gotten there yet.

I am just concerned that we are trying to gain equal footing by tearing down what others have built. That logically appears to be a recipe to destroy everything. Building is what creates progress.

In cases where those social structures are deliberately freezing out others, I agree that working within the confines of the law to tear these cultural traditions down is probably the only way to fix things.

I’m just not convinced that most organizations are intentionally freezing anyone out.

Genetics

If I’m pulling the numbers out of my brain correctly, every human being on the planet shares over 99% of identical DNA. With less than 1% differing, look at all of the beautiful human variety that we have! Boys and girls differ by one entire chromosome, and yet we somehow convince ourselves that the only thing that this particular chromosome does is change a couple of body parts.

As a mother of two girls and one boy and a former teacher of 16 years, I beg to differ. From toddlerhood on, I have seen significant differences in the mental workings of boys and girls. My daughters took stuffed animals to bed at night. My son, no matter how hard I tried to convince him to choose a stuffed animal, slept with his toy cars and trucks. No matter how hard I tried to teach differently, boys are more likely to react physically to events in their world and girls are more likely to talk about it.

My experiences lead me to believe that boys and girls view, process, and react to the world differently.

Safe Spaces

Which takes me back to my concern about “equalizing through destruction.” Tearing down barriers and breaking down walls feels like a noble fight.

Apples and oranges are both equally fruit. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make an apple an orange or an orange an apple. We have to appreciate both for what they are and integrate them into our diet appropriately.

Separate is not necessarily equal, but boys and girls have different needs. Perhaps it is better to let an organization that has a track record of teaching boys to be good men alone and instead support and expand an organization designed to teach girls to be strong women. Maybe it is time to embrace our differences and wonderfully and wildly complementary and thoughtfully create safe spaces for boys and girls to become who they are in all of their variety and beauty.

What do you think about the latest decision of the Boy Scouts? Leave thoughtful insights in the comments.

Does it Really Take a Disaster?

volunteersThis may be the one part of human nature that baffles me the most, even though I have many instances of the same thinking and behavior running throughout my life.

Until Harvey, and now with Irma and Maria, wildfires in the western US, an earthquake in Mexico, and other major disasters that I am probably overlooking my news feed had been completely dominated by politicians calling each other names, riots based on race, and debates on every possible position that someone can take.

It’s like we are wired to thrive on this idea of “us” and “them.” The mentality is an ever-present theme throughout human history. When the Europeans overran the American continent, the Native Americans were branded as savages and treated as being far less than human. Very few people in that day took the time to get to know their neighbors who were so different from them. They were different, they were to be shunned, and wars broke out between “us” and them.” It makes me very hesitant to ever celebrate cultural progress.

Enter the natural disasters.

Suddenly, we forget that we have been calling each other names and trying to find ways to use the government to put the other side in its place. We stop rioting and threatening. Suddenly, there are real people — not all that different from you and me — whose lives have been destroyed. Real people with whom I have a connection need help. It’s like we are collectively pulled up short by the cliche “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

We roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side with people that we were disparaging just weeks before. We do our good deeds, go home talking about how awesome the experience was and how we need to be more like this every day, and then return to our former pursuits of bashing those who don’t fit our personal definition of acceptability.

What is it about us humans that we can be so blind to our failings? Why is it so easy to turn people who hold other views into objects to be destroyed? Why is it so scary to sit down and have rational discussions? Why aren’t we trying to at least get a glimpse of other points of view to see what validity is there?

When those few American settlers bothered to understand Native American culture and traditions, they didn’t necessarily embrace this lifestyle that was so new and foreign to them, but they did find much that was good in these people who were so different from themselves. They found families and traditions and knowledge. They found real people.

So, is there anything stopping you from listening, considering, and responding rationally?

Hear Me Out.

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I have held onto an article for a few weeks because it emphasizes a problem that has been troubling me for much longer. Recent natural disasters may seem to have solved the problem, but it won’t be long until we feel like we have “pulled together” and “done some good” and go back to our status quo.

The article is “I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.” I hope that you will take the time to read it. Although it is long, it is a thorough look at what I’m going to briefly cover.

Especially in the United States, we seem to have this idea that “You aren’t like me, you can’t understand.” (Of course, many of these same people and groups are shouting for people to listen and understand and correct injustices real and imagined.) The problem with this attitude is that it divides us, and it makes people feel like they are being diminished and dismissed for things like skin color, gender, and moral conscience.

I recently had an experience where I took a long ride with an old friend. I was “reverting” into a victim and filled with distrust. She wanted to help. As we were driving, she had a lot to say. Even though it was spoken in love, there were things I didn’t really want to hear. I could have easily told her “You don’t understand. You’ve never been divorced. You’ve never felt the effects of psychological abuse. You’ve never had someone actively work to turn your children against you.” I could have dismissed everything she said because of her lack of shared experiences.

Instead, I recognized her love and her long history of experience with me. I honored that fact that, because she lacked my experiences, she could talk to me from a fresh perspective. I decided to value what she had to say and evaluate it for truth. I took action on her words because I decided she was right.

And I snapped out of it.

Which leads me to ask some tough questions:

  • Are blame and marginalization of others the kinds of attitudes we want to instill in our children? They learn from our example. If we don’t model and teach rational thought and empathetic listening, our kids aren’t going to figure it out on their own!
  • Are these attitudes helping or hurting us? And, in reference to “us,” I mean every sense of the word: individual, family, community, and nation.
  • How am I, personally, working to turn the tide of blame and playing the victim? Do we examine our thoughts and behaviors to make sure that we are not adding to the problem? Do we choose self-empowerment and accountability?
  • Am I willing to listen to opposing views for the ideas and the truth, without dismissing thoughts because of some category to which the speaker belongs?
  • Am I willing to speak up and tactfully challenge others who are blaming, marginalizing, and playing the victim?

 

Questions of Religion

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I often run across news articles that cause me to seriously reflect on what I believe to be the state of the world. Recently, I paused over an article, “Christian Slapped with $12,000 ‘Shariah Fine’ for not Removing Shoes.”

It’s a short article, and it was written with some fairly obvious Christian bias. That’s my first pause. I suppose that if the publication is by Christians for Christians, I could cut the journalist a little bit of slack. Even so, I have a hard time understanding how to justify what appears to be an attempt to stir hard feelings against another religious group and/or the government. Sure, I believe that Christian rights should be honored with equal protection under the law (yes, I’m very American), but fear mongering isn’t helping the cause.

I am concerned about a system (and yes, I know this happened in Canada), that financially supports the side making the claim without providing an even opportunity for the party who has to be defended against the claim. Having only the article for information, it does look like the government is siding with minority groups without reasonable checks in place, putting a heavy burden on those who are accused — and opening the door to outrageous abuses of the system.

I am concerned that there was a breakdown in communication that became a legal incident. From the article, there is no telling if one side or both sides behaved badly as they communicated. But, it seems like adults should be able to be civil and transmit information to each other. How simple would it have been to remind your landlord of your beliefs and request that he and other visitors please remove their shoes when they enter your home? Shouldn’t a good Christian honor that request as a show of respect and Christian love?

Finally, my biggest concern is how touchy we all seem to be lately. Can a Christian say, “God bless you” without someone of another faith (or no faith) crying to social media that Christians are trying to force them to adopt their beliefs? Shouldn’t a Muslim woman be able to wear a hijab without fear of being called a terrorist? How can governments help ensure that all citizens have equal rights without getting into the business of religion?

Is there a way to make room for us all?

Easter Thoughts

easterheadWhen I was as kid, I would have never believed that I would have felt any sense of worry or nervousness when writing about Easter. I grew up in a time when sacred and secular practices blended together to make a fun, chocolate-filled holiday for kids.

But, as I grew up, the world changed. Everywhere I turn, it seems like we have tension, distrust, and even hatred. Something as simple as saying “Happy Easter” is now preceded by thoughts of — will this person be offended because they aren’t Christian?

The actual celebration of Easter can be even more charged — should it just be a spiritual holiday, do you mix in secular traditions, do you try to separate ancient pagan influences and have a “pure” holiday, or do you put religion aside and just celebrate it in the spirit of welcoming spring?

I don’t have all the answers. If I could write a magic sentence that would bring world peace, it would be written in a heartbeat.

What I do know is that we somehow have to learn to accept and love people in spite of (or maybe even because of) our differences. We have to learn to disagree agreeably. We have to stop being so ready to assume that someone’s words or actions are calculated attacks against us and our values. We have to change inside before we can influence any change around us.

So, without any ill-intent, but speaking from the goodness and well-wishes of the culture in which I was raised,

“Happy Easter.”