Letter to the Editor: Teaching culture in schools

(In response to “Guest Viewpoint: CCS needs more race education as part of curriculum,” Clarkston News, Aug. 19, 2020)

Dear Editor,
Few would disagree that history and cultural education in American schools could be enhanced.
Americans who travel abroad are often surprised and embarrassed to learn of near universal disappointment by our foreign neighbors with the lack of American interest or knowledge of world history and geopolitical issues (and world geography!)
Still, there is no denying that Clarkston Community Schools use available resources to provide an excellent educational experience for our kids.
Undoubtedly, its leaders and educators agree that CCS, as well as other school districts throughout the nation, might well benefit from expanded racial and cultural historical perspectives being introduced into the curriculum.
Still, the emphasis on black culture, if fully adopted as recommended by the black former and prospective CCS graduate petitioners, is unlikely to contribute to student achievement or an end to racial division in our society. (Note that no increased emphasis on Hispanic or other cultural history or achievement was advanced by the petitioners.)
Many of the tools introduced by the petitioners are potentially helpful, but the manner of introduction is important, and must be balanced with other needs. A continued or enhanced emphasis on racial or cultural guilt or martyrdom by any group is unlikely to move things forward. While role models are important, the nation errs when opportunities are measured by quotas, or only minority candidates are given priority consideration for educational slots or executive positions in corporate or academic diversity departments, or conclusions are made that blacks are better suited than whites to teach black history, diversity or implicit bias themes.
Too often the “cures” for racial discrimination include the same theories, approaches and ingredients used to discriminate. People see the hypocrisy.
Many of us would like our history lessons to have included more about the struggles of other cultures, including blacks but also French Canadian immigrants forced to leave their country for the swamps of the southern U.S., as well as the hardships of Jews, Irish, Italians, indentured servants and others all forced from their homelands only to endure further persecution here. Native Americans and Hispanic peoples, too, have their own past and contemporary experiences and painful stories.
The facts of all their experiences are important and should be presented in school lessons, along with facts about their integration and economic and political successes.
The reality, though, is that poetry from a black poet and stories of African roundups of neighbors for sale into international slavery and shipment to America are unlikely to advance the contemporary conditions of either blacks or whites, or any other racial or ethnic group.
Banners with proclamations that “Black Lives Matter” stir even non-black Americans into greater and more open support for civil rights, at least until they learn that many banner carriers oppose any notion that all lives matter and complain of “micro aggressions” by others. Many Americans also remain unmotivated, even repulsed, by even carefully crafted, politically correct lectures on the evils of white male elite politicians often unrelated to them who walked 200-250 years ago, accompanied by arguments and claims for more quotas and reparations.
We probably all want reparations for the sufferings of our ancestors, even as we move on and achieve in spite of the sleights and indignities.
There is much for students in grades kindergarten through 12 to learn, with limited time and always limited by scarce resources.
An educational emphasis on cultural achievement is great, but a theme based on racial or ethnic martyrdom paired with remedies like reparations and affirmative action quotas disguised as “goals” will lead us only to where we now are – stuck in a divided society where camps remain fixed, resentments fester and there is little advancement or inclusion and integration.
Our different experiences are relevant, but finding commonality and a purpose in uniting is more important. The key to moving forward is to increase awareness about implicit bias and personal responsibility for growth and development – for adults as well as students.
More tailored history and literature lessons may have their place, but even folks with liberal arts degrees know that a more sure path to economic security and a nicer house is through greater academic opportunity and achievement for ALL students in STEM subjects like math and science, engineering and economics.

Mike Fetzer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.