Opinion: Any Ban on African American History at Schools Is an Attack on the First Amendment

Walter Rhein

Photo byWalter Rhein

Some of the things that are going on in American schools are truly disturbing. For example, the Florida governor recently blocked a class on African American history. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court recently made a decision that will expose children to prayer at school.

There is already a problem with inaccurate information being presented as fact in American schools. One example is the “lost cause” narrative that misrepresents the Confederate south and the Civil War.

To this day, many Americans insist that the Civil War was not fought over slavery. However, this idea is easily disproven by reading “The Cornerstone Speech” by Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens. Or, you could read the letters of secession, almost all of which mention slavery in the first few lines.

The weird part is that even when you’re armed with historical documents that prove the Civil War was fought over slavery, people will snort and tell you to “go and read some history.”

It should be terrifying to anyone who has any respect for the truth to perceive how easy it is to convince a large population to defend a false narrative.

Perhaps the worst part of the Florida decision is that it does not specify what content it finds objectionable. This reminds me of the large number of people who complain about critical race theory, but yet have absolutely no idea what critical race theory actually is.

If an agency of the US government is going to take any action that infringes on a fundamental constitutional right, at the very least they have an obligation to specify the parameters of their decision.

Yes, there is a need to moderate the information that is presented to children in public schools. For example, any form of guided prayer should be considered inappropriate because it infringes on the rights students have to religious freedom.

When it comes to African American history, I would like to know the specific information the Florida government feels it’s inappropriate for children to hear. For example, is there an objection to teaching about Thomas Jefferson’s horrific abuse of his adolescent slave Sally Hemings?

If we are to allow prominent individuals to insist the Constitution was divinely inspired, don’t our children have the right to learn the true history of the men who wrote it?

Some people say that it’s wrong to impose our current morality on the past. This is called “presentism.” However, if it’s commonly believed the morality of the present doesn’t apply to the past, doesn’t that suggest the morality of the past doesn’t apply to the present? Therefore, Biblical morality is rendered logically incompatible with our times.

In my opinion, these are all reasonable discussion topics for a public classroom. The problem we’re facing today is that teachers are losing their jobs based on unsubstantiated accusations.

If a teacher is facing dismissal, he or she at least has the right to know what specific content was found to be objectionable. That should be a rigorous process. We can’t have a situation where professionals are routinely fired and no cause is given.

The issue of freedom of speech recently came up in the state of Wisconsin in regard to a ban on gay conversion therapy. Proponents of gay conversion therapy tried to argue that blocking that therapy amounted to an infringement on freedom of speech. They made this argument despite the fact that gay conversion therapy has been discredited and is seen as harmful to children.

It’s disturbing to observe how much court time is wasted on unsound legal arguments. What I don’t understand is why freedom of speech can be used to defend something as horrible as gay conversion therapy, but it isn’t used to defend teaching the accurate history of our country.

Our students have a right to learn the true history of the Civil War. Many people in northern states thought of the Confederates as traitors, and we can’t erase that history. Our children have a right to hear it.

One of the main problems in the United States is our social perspective has been shifted to the extreme political right.

Every responsible American citizen has an obligation to defend our constitutional rights. Any time an agency of government infringes upon freedom of speech without cause, it warrants our attention. We can’t deny history by pretending that slavery and racism didn’t exist in our nation. The most uncomfortable truths about our past are the ones that provide us with the best insight into how to build a better future.

Americans need to stop cheering unsubstantiated CRT bans. What does that even mean? Are schools going to be prohibited from discussing the slave trade? Are schools going to be prohibited from discussing institutionalized racism? Are schools going to be prohibited from discussing the Jim Crow era?

Keep in mind that all of these injustices represent mechanisms of authoritarian control that could be leveraged against any community. If our children are not educated on these tactics, they become vulnerable to them.

Comments / 476

Published by

Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

More from Walter Rhein

Comments / 0