“We do remember. We remember the things that flatter us…Can a state create the kind of memory that say a mother has of a child? You know, a brother has of a sister? When you love somebody right? But you don’t think that they’re perfect but you would, you know leap in front of a truck for them never the less. Can a state have that kind of patriotism? Can that kind of love of a country actually exist? Or is the only kind of love of country where no, no we’re the best, we’re better than everybody else, and you know we’ve never done anything wrong; and if we did do anything wrong, you know, our everything about [us is] good so clearly our best so we don’t even need to talk about it.” Ta-Nehisi Coates in an interview with Ezra Klein (around the 41 minute mark).
Ta-Nehisi Coates articulates what I have been trying to say in my reflections on my trip to D.C. I think Washington D.C. is just like our textbooks in that they both act like it is un-American to question the morals of our country’s actions or to admit that as a country we have done bad things.
The truth is that America has done horrific things in the world, but is still a great country. We need to get kids to be able to grasp those two things at the same time. This is definitely a focus in my classroom and hiding the ugly side of America is no way to do it.
Kids engage more with American History when they see it as a complex story of multiple viewpoints instead of as a comic book where America is always the superhero that saves the day.
This is from a long interview about Coates’ great piece on reparations in the Atlantic (a must read before you watch this interview).
I appreciate your reflections in this series, Mike. I find it interesting my gut reaction is to become defensive about our past. I want to feel “right,” but what our country (any country) needs is citizens who love it enough to view it critically and strive to make it better. Thanks for the push in that direction.
Thanks for you honesty, Philip. Until we acknowledge the bad with the good, we can’t heal the wounds of the past. It is important to talk about these things. I also think that kids look at “heroes” ‘and think that they were perfect and therefore it is impossible for them to do great things. It is empowering for students to realize that the “great” people in history made mistakes and are human too.