Letter: History is full of valuable lessons | Letters

Many recent Roanoke Times articles and letters to the editor, such as Katie Elmore’s March 1 “An open letter to concerned parents of Virginia’s public-school children,” focused on strongly held, frequently divisive opinions on the teaching of Virginia and US history in our public schools.

Questions abound about what and how history should be taught, the role of parents in curriculum decisions, and how should teaching racial history be approached?

I strongly believe that we should step back for a moment and revisit this foundational question first: “Why is it important to learn history?”

A life-defining teacher asked this question of my young elementary school class in the 1950s. We squirmed about in our seats until the teacher eventually smiled and quoted Winston Churchill: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” That simple, prophetic lesson taught me to be curious, appreciative to the attentive to the of history, while also remaining careful about those who try to deny or cover up those lessons.

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Virginia is teetering, perhaps through ignorance or ill will, on repeating some of the evils found in our history. We are battling in our social/ethnocultural wars about what should be included, and what should be discarded, in foundational education. It is not enough to say “teach reading, writing, arithmetic.” It is important, for example, that our children learn about people like Harriet Tubman to understand her courage in repeatedly returning south to escort enslaved people through the Underground Railroad to a chance at freedom. It is important for them to learn about her bravery, unselfishness and willingness to risk her own hard-won freedom to help others.

Does this and similar lessons in history cover “inherently divisive concepts” from which our children should be protected? No.

Does teaching these lessons inherently place blame and foster guilt on a certain race? No.

Instead, Black history as a necessary component of US history is full of valuable lessons that will help define our children’s appreciation for the values ​​defining the actions of those who defied, and in time overcame, the tyranny and injustice of slavery that denied freedom and opportunity to so many.

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