Our Kids Deserve the Honest Truth About U.S. History
Efforts to ban authentic discussions of race in the classroom deprive students of information essential to their understanding of our country and themselves.
As we approach Juneteenth, it is not the first time my students and I have talked about the history of this day. Over the past four years, the students I have taught from second through fifth grade have learned about slavery, the Civil War and all the events leading up to the freeing of the last enslaved people in the United States.
My students also have a clear understanding of why it took so long for the news of emancipation to reach Texas, and after learning this history, they were able to better understand the significance of Juneteenth.
This past January, as I prepared to address my students following the Capitol insurrection, they had already begun connecting what we had previously learned about the Civil War to the images that were displayed on the news. One student shared that they noticed the Confederate flag from our text was also on display at the Capitol on January 6. After learning this history about our country, my students were able to completely grasp what was happening right down the street from them.
It’s my responsibility to teach accurate and factual history.
Recently, a student mentioned that they saw a story on the news about lawmakers trying to ban the teaching of certain history. Some students were worried it would include our school. I shared with them that, thankfully, it wouldn’t impact us, but that it is affecting other students around the country. More than a dozen states have recently moved to legislate how race is—and isn’t—taught in schools. Although the specifics vary from state to state, these types of regulations will prevent teachers from having the type of honest discussions with their students that we have regularly in our class.
Hearing this information was confusing to students, especially in a classroom where inquiry and discourse are encouraged. As we always do, we discussed these proposed laws together in class, and this, too, we tried to understand by connecting the current trend to its underpinnings in U.S. history. My students found it unfair that their peers in other states were not able to learn accurate history.
I’ve seen how learning accurate American history has not only caused my students to approach their learning differently but has also inspired them to make change in the world. When students enter my classroom in the second grade, one of the first units they are introduced to is focused on activism. I remember when we learned about the four North Carolina A&T students who were refused service at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although these were college students, my students were able to relate. As the unit went on, students began to form opinions and make connections between the stories we were reading in class and our current climate.
Each year, as students learn more about American history, more questions arise. As a teacher, it would be very difficult to avoid answering these questions. It’s also important to consider that, regardless of whether these issues are taught in school, students have access to this information online. And they’re able to make connections between what we learn in American history and their lived experiences. Omitting certain aspects of history from students who can access this information makes it challenging for them to completely understand why certain systemic inequities are continuing to take place.
And we don’t just discuss tragic events and massacres. Students are introduced to a wide range of heroes and read inspiring stories of people who not only look like them but have taken bold steps to fight injustice. So, by fifth grade—my last year with them—a lot of our students are eager to turn their words into action.
We’ve had conversations in my class with journalist Wesley Lowery from CBS News about the current climate in our country. We’ve also had students featured on the local news, while others have written to local newspapers to share their opinions. Some students have even joined protests here in Washington, D.C. And many of them hope to pursue careers where they can make change, as attorneys, elected officials, and even president. Teaching my students in any way other than with full honesty and authenticity would deprive them of knowledge that can change their lives, and through them, the world.
Alejandro Diasgranados (D.C. ‘15) is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Aiton Elementary School, located in Ward 7 of the District of Columbia. He grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he attended High Point High School. He was named the 2021 D.C. Teacher of the Year, a Finalist for the National Teacher of the Year Award, and recently received a surprise announcement as the National University Teacher of the Year on the Drew Barrymore Show.
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The opinions expressed in this piece, and all others in our Opinion section, represent those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Teach For America organization.