Today, we released a statement on American history from our Executive Director, Rachel Canter. In partnership with that statement, Mississippi First has developed the following principles for assessing curriculum-related legislation. These principles are based on our organizational values.
- Racism is abhorrent in all forms at all times. Slavery was a grave moral sin. So was the Holocaust. So is all genocide. Racism is a branch of the same tree as these, as is any ideology that would deny any person equal human dignity. These truths, to us, are self-evident. Schools have both a moral and an educational obligation not only to tell our children clearly that racism is unacceptable but to refuse to treat it as merely a “side” of an historical event. We must also acknowledge that racism still exists and be vigilant about opposing it in all its forms. One knee-jerk reaction to the current conversation has been a foolish insistence that we equate “both sides” of history in every circumstance. Any attempt to require schools to do so when one “side” was animated by racism is wrong and worthy of our condemnation.
- We should not lie to children. One of our fundamental values as an organization is that we should be honest with each other and to children. To us, this means that we need to tell our young people the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what happened in our past. As we wrote over a year ago, we know slavery, and the racism that upheld it, is our country and state’s original sin. These parts of our past are shameful, and we live with their legacy. However, we also believe that America’s journey through history towards a “more perfect union”—one that lives up to our ideals—makes America worth loving and fighting for, just as we love and fight for a better Mississippi. We should give children the knowledge and skills to see America’s history in full and decide their place in it.
- Good history instruction is required for us to meet today’s challenges. Quality history instruction presents evidence, drawing on primary sources with a diversity of perspectives, and allows students to make their own judgments about why the events of the past happened. Children taught in this manner not only do better on history tests like NAEP; they also are more prepared to understand and interpret current events, promoting good citizenship and a healthier democracy. Mississippi has some excellent history teachers and outstanding state history museums. We must support schools in protecting the time to teach history just like we have made strides in protecting the time to teach science. We must also ensure that teachers feel confident that they can use best practices in history instruction, as articulated by the Nation’s Report Card and other nationally recognized sources, without fear of retaliation.
We believe these principles are commonsense. In a recent nationwide poll of parents, large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agreed that “racism still exists in America today.” Large majorities also believe that “students should be taught to love America and what their country stands for” while at the same time agreeing that “we should acknowledge the terrible things that have happened in our nation’s history regarding race so students can learn from them and make the future better.” We thank teachers and schools for their hard work every day on behalf of children and will work to ensure all legislation abides by these principles.