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Opinion: It’s important to learn all of history – the good, bad and ugly

Each year, on the first day of my U.S. History class, I share a portion of the Carl Sagan book, “The Pale Blue Dot,” in which he writes about humanity and our place in the vast cosmos.

Our study of history places us, momentarily, on the spectrum of time. Sagan writes that “every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant” has existed on our Pale Blue Dot in the universe. This gives us an understanding of who we are and how we got here, and challenges us to recognize our role, however large or small.

Blake Mazurek
Blake Mazurek is an eighth-grade history teacher at Grandville (MI) Middle School. (Courtesy photo)

That’s why it’s disheartening to hear efforts to limit our scope of understanding about history and our place in it. Rising calls against teaching the truth about our history – including states passing restrictive laws that censor what and how teachers teach – are “like a fire bell in the night,” to quote Thomas Jefferson.

As with all educators, history teachers are experts in our field. My bachelor’s degree in history and Master’s of Education, along with years of reading, professional development and classroom instruction have given me a firm grasp of my curriculum and practice. I continue to push myself to learn more and strive to become better at what I do – just as every teacher does.

In my 27 years in the classroom, I have never been referred to as a “Marxist Communist” or been accused of teaching students to hate our country or themselves. But what I hear at school board meetings and read on social media would suggest I am somehow ignorant of my craft and, at worst, a devious indoctrinator of evil.

What I believe is simple – our students need to learn our history – all of it.

I use the title from my favorite Clint Eastwood movie when sharing with parents that we will learn “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” of history. Learning about our history SHOULD elicit a degree of uncomfortableness and challenge us. Understanding the truth about our troubled past highlights how far we have come, along with helping to recognize the work we still have before us.

It should also serve as a warning against the rising threats to our nation. We have been here before and the only thing preventing us from sliding back into ignorance is encouraging honesty in curriculum, respecting and trusting our educators, and embracing academic freedom in allowing the experts in their fields to determine the best course of study for students – not politicians or television personalities.

Public education and the life-changing learnings students gain from it are under attack. If you believe our youth need to be equipped with the skills to critically examine the world – and if you trust educators to teach our students using research-based best practices – it’s time to speak up. Please attend your local school board meetings, address your legislators and support honesty in education.

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