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Former history teacher says “Disney” curriculum at GASD wouldn’t benefit students

Editor’s Note:

Mr. Reed read this statement during the public comment session at the Gettysburg Area School District Board of Directors meeting on Monday evening.

The Connection welcomes letters of opinion. Also, please feel free to leave comments about this letter in the space below.

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.

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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.


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Linda Terlizzi
Linda Terlizzi
2 years ago

As a student in the 1950’s- 1960’s, I was taught the Disney version of US history as well. My awakening to the true history came from Howard Zinn’s “The People’s History of the United States”, which should be required reading for high school students. Thank you for speaking out, Leon.

Ralph Duquette
Ralph Duquette
2 years ago

This letter by Mr. Reed should be shared with every school board candidate and voter in PA. Wish I could share directly in my district (Palmyra) but I’ll have to settle for directing folks here.

L&D Cairns
L&D Cairns
2 years ago

Thanks so much for publishing this statement that was shared with the board. It is so right and well stated. And thank you to Mr. Reed.

Suzanne Geaney
Suzanne Geaney
2 years ago

Thank you, Mr. Leon Reed. We are likely from the same generation since I experienced history the same way you were taught it. Since I lack the “fun gene” according to me friends and family, I only had to go to the Disney theme park in FL once. I recall being taken aback by how they presented history just the way you described. Now I understand the inane “critical race theory” concept! Thank you for connecting those dots.

Brian Mitson
Brian Mitson
2 years ago

We need more teachers like you in the schools, Leon. I attended Gettysburg Junior High School in the early Sixties. Back then, there was a tendancy to gloss over the fact that the Confederacy was promoting the ownership of human being. Gettysburg had become, in many ways, a shrine to the Confederacy’s “noble lost cause”. Now that schools are telling it like it was, many folks take it as an indictment of them for the trangressions of their forebears. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must examine the past objectively, and take lessons from it.

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