The United States is facing a reckoning with how American history is taught in schools nationwide as education becomes an increasingly partisan issue. While concepts like critical race theory are the latest point of interest, this is not a new phenomenon.
The 1619 Project is an example of an effort to correct this issue. Still, many find it hard to reconcile the romanticized version of American history with its nuanced and complicated realities. For example, recently, a tour detailing the history of slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate led to claims from some commentators that Monticello is ruining the founding father’s legacy. So how do we reconcile the complex realities of American history and come to terms with our past?
“We try to tell the truth about what happened in ancient Rome, or in the French revolution, or whatever else, and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be telling everything we know about what happened in this country too.” —Bill McKibben, author
Listen: Author Bill McKibben says we’re still deciding what American history means.
Bill McKibben is an educator, environmentalist and author of “The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.” He says while we are learning much more about history, often it is still tragically reduced to bumper stickers that fail to give us a rich sense of our past.
“All people are trying to do, I think, when they introduce things like the 1619 Project, is let young people grow up with an actual understanding of what our history is about. And that doesn’t mean that you have to hate the country, or anything like it,” says McKibben. “That’s what history is. We try to tell the truth about what happened in ancient Rome, or in the French revolution, or whatever else, and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be telling everything we know about what happened in this country too.”
Bill McKibben photo credit: StoryWorkz