We’ve learned over and over again that the words we use to describe our history, and the present, are important.  The shades of meaning give us all a better sense of what actually happened.  The tone of the words give context to the actions, especially in retrospect, having the luxury of time and perspective.

The State of Texas’ schoolboard has been dealing with a “group of educators” who want to change the wording used in the second grade to describe slavery.  This group prefers the descriptor “involuntary relocation” over the term slavery, to describe what crimes were perpetrated upon African Americans in this country’s formative years, up until not too many generations ago.

Currently, slavery is not taught at the second grade level, but the group was suggesting it be taught in comparison to the way other groups of people, such as the Irish, immigrated to the U.S. voluntarily.  Making that contrast would be fine, but not if they are trying to distill the entire framework of slavery as
“involuntary relocation’.  Children know what kidnapping is.  Children understand being forced to do things they don’t want to.  This rephrasing of the institution of slavery is not being used to find a way to introduce the concept.  It is being used as a way to, forgive the phrase, whitewash slavery.

The group pushing this narrative would like us to believe that slavery was not part of the framework of our country, but was a deviation from it.  This is a very harmful rewriting of history, to make Americans feel better about themselves, and to make white people feel less guilt about their ancestors’ misdeeds, whether they were active in the slave trade, or complacent as they witnessed these dark deeds in silence.

The saying attributed to philosopher Santayana is, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I would extend that to say that those who aren’t taught the past are condemned to repeat it.  If we willfully change the teaching of our history, both brave and cowardly, our future generations will not be able to build upon lessons learned, but are doomed to start at the bottom.

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