2001-12-08 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

It all sounded so simple. Buried among the most recent Board of Education decree was a Chancellor’s Regulation that said districts should require their schools to hold a Pledge of Allegiance Ceremony at the beginning of each school day.

Nothing in New York, however, is simple.

Larry Sauer, a school board member in District 3 in Manhattan, said, "Requiring students to blindly repeat the pledge is no different than the Taliban requiring children to memorize the Koran and repeat it by rote, without understanding why or what they are saying."

He and his colleagues on the District 3 board passed a unanimous resolution to defy the chancellor’s regulation.

First of all, I have to say that there is something wrong with the schools in District 3 if the kids don’t study American History often enough that they don’t understand what the pledge of allegiance and the flag stand for.

I know that it is no longer politically correct to study those "dead white guys" who we collectively call our "Founding Fathers," and what they did to start a nation that has endured as a democracy for more than 200 years, but that is what the schools should be doing.

Our Founding Fathers had warts. Some of them were slaveholders, others alcoholics. Some of them, history has shown, sexually mistreated their female slaves. Some, Alexander Hamilton for example, were more concerned with protecting the "elite" class to which he belonged than he was in developing democracy.

None of those things diminish the fact that they collectively came up with a plan and a document to support that plan that has become the framework for democracy.

Of course, you have to remember that this is the same neighborhood where a private school set a ban on mother’s day because, "mother’s day was not fair to those students whose parents held an alternative life style."

Equating the Board of Education, with the Taliban! Give us all a break!

There is a problem, however, that does need to be addressed. For the past decade, the schools have worked hard to insure that they did not address anything that might be harmful to any possible lifestyle or group. It worked hard to move away from "dead white guys," to "diversity," to the idea that all ideas are as good as any others, that there is nothing important unless the child thinks that it is important, that you don’t teach anything until "the child is ready to learn it."

The problems that such an educational "black hole" creates were summed up by William Schutt, a Con Ed worker who spoke to a daily newspaper.

"You can see that attitude in little kids," Schutt says. "My wife teaches in a private kindergarten. These kids have no idea of what freedom is all about, or what the flag stands for."

It is time that they learned.

It is time that the New York City schools went back to the basics – back to the citizenship curriculum that was scrapped a decade ago because it was deemed too oriented towards studying "dead white men," with not enough time given to diversity and minority groups.

It got so bad for awhile that curriculum writers and textbooks specialists were making up minority historical figures, people who never existed or who never did what the politically correct said that they did, simply so that minority students could "feel better about themselves" or could "relate better" to the historical figure.

I have written before of the conference I went to in New Orleans. At that conference there was a seminar on "Authentic Instruction." I chose to attend that seminar because I wanted to find out why the instruction that I had been giving all these years was not authentic at all, but rather, somehow "bogus."

The women who ran the seminar gave out a worksheet that contained the story of a Black woman who was one of the leaders of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in 1848.

It was a very uplifting story of moving from slavery to a leadership position in the woman’s movement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The only problem was that it was a lie.

Having written a history textbook about the period and having done lots of primary source research on the convention, I knew that it was not a true story.

I raised my hand and raised my question.

"What does it matter whether it is true or not," the seminar leader asked. "In order for children to really learn, they must have characters that they can invest in, that they care about. That is what is important, not whether this woman really existed or not."

"They need a reason to study history," she added, "and this woman is the reason that Black children will want to study history."

I left the seminar at that point, after urging those in attendance to care for history enough that they did not make it up.

I am not sure whether I was "authentic," or not, but I hope that I made my point.

History is what it is. We cannot judge the people who lived in 1789 by contemporary standards.

We cannot simply ignore them because they had warts.

If we do so, we face the probability that our children will not understand why they have the freedoms that they do have, why they can speak out and vote on issues at a time when so many in the world cannot.

The District 3 school board is a little like the man who ties up his children and then complains that they cannot do pushups.

Schools in New York City do not any longer teach citizenship. It does not teach about the "dead white men" who founded this nation.

How, then, can the schools complain when kids do not understand the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, of the flag.

The fault is in ourselves.

Nina Segarra, president of the central board, is using the incident to point to the idea that district boards should be abolished.

Rather, she should be using the incident to reinstate the teaching of Citizenship in our schools. She will not do that, however, because it is not politically correct and she and the board are the most politically correct persons in our multicultural city.


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