Mr. Reed read this statement during the public comment session at the Gettysburg Area School District Board of Directors meeting on Monday evening.
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My name is Leon Reed and I live In Cumberland Township. I’d like to start by thanking you for your service. I know you don’t hear that often and I appreciate the work you do.
I taught US History in public schools in Virginia for 10 years and I am now a fulltime writer and editor, publishing six history books in the past five years. I take social studies very seriously.
Before I start, I’d like to acknowledge that the school division has made some curriculum materials available online. I haven’t had a chance to review it yet, but it’s a good first step, so thanks.
We need this material because if we’re going to argue about what should be taught, we need to know what’s being taught. I’ve heard people complain that the schools are teaching people to hate everything about America. That schools are teaching white students they should be ashamed of being white. That they’re teaching socialism.
The claim that critical race theory is being taught in public schools is utter nonsense. But what about the broader claim that they’re teaching students to “hate America?” I have two experiences with history and civics education in the public schools, once as a student in the 1950s and 60s and the other as a teacher, from 2008-15.
I attended school and studied history at a time when American history consisted of brave explorers, bringing civilization to the savages; presidents and generals, also expanding civilization by conquering the Mexicans, the Indians, and others; wise inventors, creating wonderful inventions that made everyone’s life better; and smart businessmen like Rockefeller and Carnegie, who built wonderful companies and then improved everyone’s life by giving away most of their money for libraries, parks, and world peace.
Fifty years later, when I taught 11th grade United States/Virginia history, we didn’t ignore the downsides. We covered the arguments about slavery at the Constitutional Convention, the growth of slavery after the invention of the cotton gin, the Trail of Tears, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Japanese internment, massive resistance, etc.
Were we teaching kids to be ashamed and to hate America? No, quite the opposite. In fact, the organizing premise of the whole year was that Jefferson’s lofty words in the Declaration at first applied to almost nobody but that these rights came to apply more broadly to more and more people. It was a deeply patriotic message: America is imperfect but is trying to improve.
How about my generation, who learned that the Indians at first were nice to the English settlers but then turned out to be murderous savages; Reconstruction was a period of great evil and abuse but that the end of Reconstruction meant the return of democracy and the end of Negroes terrorizing white people; and that the primitive savage Indians were moved to reservations where kindly doctors, nurses, and social workers could care for them. Well, most of us had figured out it was nonsense by the time we hit middle school and, far from creating a patriotic generation, the students who studied that Disney version of history became the most cynical generation in our history. You can order your teachers to teach utter nonsense – there’s a school district in Texas that, for a while, instructed its teachers to present “both sides” of the Holocaust. But the Walt Disney view of US History isn’t history. Please don’t go down that road.
Leon Reed, freelance reporter, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.