Last month, during an interview with Chris Wallace, Trump got all wound up about the historical significance of the year 1492 versus 1619, the year African slaves were first brought to North America.
I grew up with 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Even though I was also taught, later on, that he didn’t really “discover” America.
I learned about Native Americans in elementary school, as well. I recall that a long period of time was spent on the difference between wigwams and longhouses. I think we briefly discussed the natives’ plight due to European diseases. But we also made vests and headdresses out of brown paper bags and did a rain dance. And when a Native person came into class to teach us their culture, we greeted them by making the ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo hand-clapping-over-the-mouth sound we’d seen in Tom and Jerry cartoons.
I went to what is now the fourth-most-diverse elementary school in Maine, and it was probably even more diverse then. We learned about the Dust Bowl and The Grapes of Wrath and had a vague understanding of the class struggle of Okies. But it wasn’t until AP U.S. History in 12th grade — a class that maybe a quarter of the kids took at my high school — that I actually learned anything substantial about the racial history of the United States.
Sure, at one point I became aware of the fact of slavery and racism, and in middle school, during Black History Month, we were taught about the Civil Rights Movement. But everything we learned was learned in the context of a history long ago, of rights long won.
I went to pretty “woke” schools all my life. They all followed the expeditionary learning model, and EL schools have a rep for being pretty lefty. I would say they were better for me and my peers than more traditional schools in a lot of ways. But it wasn’t until high school that I read a book by a black person for class. The violent, imperialist nature of the United States was glossed over.
But the truth is, we live in an empire. We have colonies and social castes and noblemen who reap the rewards of exploitation.
All of Portland’s high schools still use tracking, albeit in a more subtle form. Faculty made up almost entirely of white members cannot relate to the struggles and culture of young people of color, many of whom are children of immigrants or immigrants themselves.
A pattern I have watched over and over again: A white teacher, because of ingrained bias and social conditioning, focuses on boys of color as the main troublemakers in a classroom. This puts them under a microscope, where they either act out more or are punished for trivial transgressions.
This is the most typical kind of racial discrimination I saw in classrooms. But even when a teacher has been able to recognize and work against that instinct, their whiteness almost always still has an effect on classroom dynamics. I like to think of these teachers as well-intentioned, but clueless.
The second-most-common pattern I’ve witnessed play out in Portland Public Schools: Well-intentioned white teachers do not relate to youth of color and favor the white children who grew up like them, with parents like them, thinking stuff like them. This creates a divide not only between the teacher and students of color, but also between white students and students of color, socially and academically.
The white students get the teacher’s favor and attention; they’re thought of as smarter, because they can more easily connect, and therefore get a leg up academically. They also follow the teacher’s model, understand that there is a difference between being white and black, and self-segregate. Even as we got older, and recognized the social segregation, it only got worse.
Black Lives Matter Portland put out a list of demands on June 6, and many of them are school-focused. Like No. 3: Require racial impact statements on school budgets and new policy. And 4: Purchase and use of history and civics textbooks by Black and Native scholars. And 5: Pass school budgets that help recruit and support Black and brown teachers.
I have learned more truth about the United States Regime from Instagram (look up @vrye, I guarantee you’ll learn a lot) than I did during my entire 13 years of public school. The system worked for me. But I went to school with many black and brown kids who had to fight prejudice every day to get their education.
Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.