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Kevin Rhodes: Students need balanced, complete history

Since it was brought to light in its recent form as critical race theory, the teaching of a balanced, thoughtful and honest approach to our nation’s history has been overly politicized and wrongly messaged.

To begin with, critical race theory is a college-level course, not one being taught to earlier grades, although current high school level history books and the children of those ages assuredly need a broader understanding of how our nation was actually conceived and founded, and how we acquired our lands through economic, diplomatic and aggressive means.

With more and more information on actual historical events becoming available to the public, I realize that I was taught a highly skewed, extremely whitewashed and terribly incomplete version of America’s history throughout my years as a student in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Now having a more informed and balanced knowledge of our history, I have a greater, yet still incomplete understanding of our ancestors’ treatment of native, European, Asian and Black Americans. Having this knowledge has made me more cognizant of what those groups experienced and why that history needs to be told as it happened.

I cannot change the past. I will not honor those who did misdeeds, but I can be proud of the achievements made by upstanding Americans who advanced our nation through honest hard work and grit. All of that history is important. All of it explains how we got to this juncture in history.

And yet there are many who do not want the truth exposed, including some recently ugly events that have added to our nation’s tarnished history. But for us to go forward in any meaningful way, it is important to know what we did in order to do better.

To do otherwise drives groups that have historically received injustice to catalyze and protest for change. When that change doesn’t come, when that knowledge is suppressed or when continued injustice confronts them, they are justifiably frustrated and angry, as any of us would be. Knowledge is power. Suppressing it is undemocratic.

As equal members of our society, the accomplishments of native and immigrant Americans are often ignored. As a student, their accomplishments were completely erased from my upbringing. Their contributions, many of them monumentally important, need be and must be presented in full light to today’s students.

These accomplishments, as well as the injustices imposed upon these groups are an integral and highly important part of our history. Removing this information from the teaching of history is akin to teaching the Bible without Revelations and Psalms or teaching auto mechanics without discussing the cooling system, as examples. It’s merely incomplete, inaccurate and dishonest.

Do I feel ashamed that my white ancestors did horrible misdeeds? Well, it doesn’t make me feel good, but I wasn’t personally responsible. All I can do now is treat all Americans as equals, including acknowledging their accomplishments and their injustices. Our students deserve better. We all deserve better. It’s simply wrong to hide information in the dark because it’s ugly.

Just because a vocal minority of Americans feels justified to hide this history in the sand doesn’t erase it. And they don’t have the right to suppress it or rewrite history to match their views simply because it isn’t comfortable.

Perhaps we should not use filament lights or use color computer monitors because they were invented by African-Americans. Or use rubber, which was first invented by native Americans. Maybe we shouldn’t teach atomic science because an Asian-American developed it. Or use USBs, invented by an Indian-American.

These are just a few examples of ethnic contributions to our existence. Similarly, we should not laud European-Americans who committed ethnocide, genocide or approved or perpetrated these and other similar crimes during our founding. Nor should we hide from them. Similarly, we shouldn’t politicize them.

We have become a polarized society for many reasons, but what was once just the day-to-day march to improve science, medicine and history, to name but a few, has become a contest of rights and freedoms that isn’t necessarily controversial. It’s simply progress.

As we bog ourselves down in the minutia of these arguments, our competitors in Russia, China and Europe march forward, surpassing us militarily, educationally and culturally. We are slowing our progress and we are threatening not only our democracy, but our future.

Students, and all Americans, deserve to know the truth and be taught a balanced and complete history of our nation. That includes the good, the bad and the ugly.

Kevin Rhodes lives in Grass Valley.

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