The Russian Revolution and ensuing civil war resulted in long-term conflict, famine, and misery for Russian people, increasing their susceptibility to totalitarianism and Stalin’s cult of personality that would be a primary cause of the Cold War.
So…when a student asks why our relations with Russia today are so tense, it is my job to help them see that although Russia is no longer a communist dictatorship, the legacy of this divide still governs American political psyche and policy in profound ways.
America’s policies during the Cold War, and its support for Israel over the years led to anti-Western sentiment, helped replace secular nationalism with Islamic extremism, and repeatedly created power vacuums for militant theocrats and Islamic radicals to fill in the Muslim world.
So…when a student asks why Islamic terrorists target the US, it is my job to help them see that although the Cold War ended 30 years ago, the intricacies from that time period are one (of many) reasons why the Middle East is still plagued by Islamic extremism.
The second wave of the Industrial Revolution created unchecked power for ultra-rich industrialists and crushing political and economic disenfranchisement of the working class.
So…when a student asks me why we have Labor Day off…or when child labor was banned…or why Facebook is sued for violation of anti-trust laws…or why it is uniquely important that women vote, it is my job to help them see that although the Progressive Era was more than 100 years ago, it ushered in much-needed economic oversight, political reform, and collective bargaining rights of labor that are to this day some of the most important tenets of western capitalist democracy we have.
There is a recipe here: Conflict > resolution > long-term impacts of the conflict.
Conflicts do not resolve overnight, nor do they often resolve entirely. We teach this explicitly in social studies by examining both the short- and long-term impacts of periods of sweeping change.
SO…when a student asks me why we still see racial protests in 2021…IT IS MY JOB to help them see that the social, political, and economic implications of 246 years of slavery, followed by 100 years of legalized segregation and political disenfranchisement do not disappear in 56 years. Racism endures in this country – both societally and systemically. Both historically and currently, institutional structures have and do exist which result in the fact that a white kid from the ‘burbs still gets the shiny new classrooms, the college acceptance letter, the job interview, the inherited assets, and the benefit of the doubt at a traffic stop over a black kid from Syracuse every day of the week.
You can call that Critical Race Theory if those are the soundbites you’re being conditioned to use. But I can honestly say that I (little old liberal me, with my 4-year SUNY “indoctrination”, my Master’s Degree from a Liberal Arts college, and ten years of teaching history in my blue state) never heard this phrase in my life until it recently became the tagline-du-jour from the political right.
I teach social studies – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the complex. I teach truth. I teach fact. I teach how to analyze and think critically. If that critical thinking leads students to feel ashamed of (or victimized by) the historical facts surrounding a racial group with whom they identify, that is neither my business, nor an example of white shaming on my behalf. To claim otherwise is a failure to understand the nature and function of education.
To suggest that we live in a post-racist society is obtuse. And the suggestion that we shouldn’t teach kids about white privilege or systemic racism because it exacerbates racial tension is the most ironically perfect example of white privilege and systemic racism I can imagine.
Ryan Burdick, 6/27/21