Outlook | History connects the dots to current events



The debate on the teaching of history itself has a history. Or, as the old aphorism says, “History doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes.

What is happening in North Carolina, from the General Assembly to the State Board of Education to local school districts, represents the contemporary “rhyme” of a century of opposition in racial dynamics and cultural. Chalkbeat, a national nonprofit education information service, lists North Carolina among 28 states with efforts to “restrict education about racism, prejudice, contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to the history of the United States or related subjects ”.

In February, the State Council, by 7 votes to 5, adopted revised standards for social studies to guide public schools in teaching societal conflict, racism and sexism in the state and nation. . Subsequently, State House passed a Republican-sponsored bill to prohibit public schools from promoting any race or gender as superior or making anyone feel uncomfortable because of their race or gender. A larger surrogate bill awaits a vote in the Senate.

This legislation has a track record, not in detail but in approach. Often the push came from the trauma of war, the upheavals resulting from new technologies, new knowledge produced by research, and courageous citizens who protested against inequalities and strived to expand democracy. The setback came from cultural traditionalists disturbed by unwanted social, economic and demographic changes and reform activism.

In the 1920s, as the United States adjusted to the aftermath of World War I and the era of industrialization, efforts arose in the South to prevent the teaching of the theory of evolution. of Darwin. Scopes’ Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, which featured the conflict over biblical interpretation and freedom of belief between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, remains an iconic episode from this period.

In 1925, the North Carolina General Assembly debated a measure to ban public schools and colleges from teaching evolution but, unlike the Tennessee legislature, did not pass a ban. Yet the debate produced one of the memorable quotes from Tar Heel politics by Sam J. Ervin Jr., then a young state official who then chaired the US Senate investigation into Watergate. Ervin debunked the bill by saying, “The jungle apes would no doubt be delighted to know that the North Carolina legislature has released them from all responsibility for the conduct of the human race in general and that of the legislature.” from North Carolina in particular.

In the 1950s, as the South and the nation adjusted to the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II as well as a wave of agitated anti-communism, the United States Supreme Court ordered integration racialism of public schools. The landmark ruling undermined Jim Crow’s segregation and, to some extent, the lost cause narrative taught throughout the region.

North Carolina responded with a mishmash of laws that amounted to a strategy of token and slow desegregation for more than a decade. Unlike Virginia, North Carolina has not closed any schools. And yet, it took new Federal Court rulings to push the South to fully comply with the law in the early 1970s. In North Carolina, white-only academies “sprang up statewide.” Write Ethan Roy and James Ford. “Most whites, however, stayed in the public school system and sent their children to non-segregated schools. “

In 1963, in response to civil rights protests among students and US-Soviet tensions, the North Carolina legislature passed a law prohibiting Communists from speaking on state-supported campuses. Speaker Ban, as he was called, violated constitutional protection of speech and threatened the accreditation of the University of North Carolina. At Chapel Hill, students demonstrated the absurdity of the law by asking a banned speaker to address students from the sidewalk just outside the low stone wall of the campus.

More recently, in response to an ordinance from Charlotte, the legislature enacted the House 2 Bill, more commonly known as the “Toilet Bill”. The law, which barred transgender people from accessing designated washrooms and locker rooms for their gender identity in schools and government buildings, created a furore that damaged the state’s economy and became an issue. campaign in 2016. Shortly after his election, Governor Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers negotiated a tangle of the law.

The challenge now is whether civics and history classes in North Carolina public schools will be robust and comprehensive enough to inspire students to think more deeply about the rich and complex histories of their state and their country. country. Wrapped in language of fairness and impartiality, pending legislation leaves teachers vulnerable and prone to over-caution in classrooms in which no student can be made uncomfortable.

Deep currents – and divisions – along lines of culture and partisanship, religion and race, gender and generations have long crossed American democracy. Understanding current events means confronting oneself and immersing oneself in the ways in which history rhymes.

Ferrel guillory

Ferrel Guillory is the Program Director in Public Life and Practice Professor at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and Vice President of EducationNC.


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