Guest column: Teaching Students how to feel about History

The Daily Ardmoreite
Tony Choate

As the pandemic surges again with new force, teachers returning to Oklahoma classrooms must fight against state government interference to protect the health and safety of their students.

A ban on mask mandates by the governor of the state has forced school districts to file legal action to implement common sense, science-based safety measures in their local communities.

Perhaps as importantly in the long term, Oklahoma teachers will be forced to fight state government censorship in order to teach American history honestly.

While H.B. 1775 was marketed as a stand against “Critical Race Theory,” in its best light it is a law attempting to shield students from any information that may cause negative feelings about the role of race in American history.

On closer examination, this new law seems aimed at ensuring teachers instruct our children to feel a certain way about history and the people they encounter each day.

Under this law, one must not teach students that “members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex,”

While somewhat confusing in the original negative language, placed in statement form, the meaning becomes clear.

Schools should teach students that “members of one race or sex can and should attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.”

While that may sound good in theory, my late mother would not have like that idea one bit.

Mom always taught me to treat women with a special kind of respect.

Despite this law, it seems important to continue teaching our children to treat one another as individuals who have unique experiences.

Our nation is built on independence, individualism and the responsibility to secure the rights our creator endowed on each of us. For those not lucky enough have Mr. Crutchfield as their high school history teacher, those concepts come from the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents.

This new law forbids teachers from instructing students that they should feel a certain way about history or people they meet every day.

Under this law, one must not teach students that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

Therefore, teachers seem obligated to teach students to be comfortable with the three-fifths compromise in the United States Constitution. If they can pull that off, they deserve way more money than they are being paid.

The Declaration of Independence states that all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights and that governments are instituted among men to secure those rights.

In a move that directly contradicted that ideal, the White men who wrote the United States Constitution included the three-fifths compromise that counts black slaves as 60 percent of a human being.

As a White man, it makes me uncomfortable that White people saw black slaves as less than human and included that belief in the founding document of our government.

Teachers are now tasked with making students feel comfortable with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that made “separate but equal” the law of the land.

It may be easier for teachers to make students feel good about Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that separate cannot be equal.

However, making students comfortable with the anger, outrage and protests of White parents who did not want their children in the same schools as children with dark skin may be more difficult.

Teachers may also find it difficult to make students feel good about the fact that schools are as segregated now as they were in 1954.

Outlawing honest history instruction will not prevent our children and grandchildren from learning the truth about our history. Students have access to worlds of information with the click of a mouse.

A friend told her young son about the Jackie Robinson story, leaving out some of the details she thought might make him uncomfortable. He responded by asking, “didn’t people call him names and spit on him and throw stuff at him?”

While the Tulsa Race Massacre was effectively hidden from students for nearly a century, That White attack on a thriving Black neighborhood is now common knowledge. Maybe it was left out of classrooms because teachers couldn’t make students feel good about it.

Dishonest history instruction will do nothing to prepare our students for life in the real world, it will only destroy the faith our students have in their teachers.

Destroying that faith in teachers may very well lead students to question the honesty and integrity of all authority figures.

Teachers should be free to teach the facts of history without telling students how they should feel. Our future depends on it.

— Tony Choate has lived in the Ardmore area for more than 50 years. He earned his master's degree in political science from Purdue University after earning a bachelor's degree in legal studies from East Central University. He worked for several years as an adjunct instructor for Murray State College, teaching courses in American history and American government and politics.