03 kids backpacks in front of schoolYour mama and mine were clear about this. We do not tell lies, nor do we perpetuate them. I must have told a whopper, because I can still remember my Kinston grandmother grabbing both my arms and putting her nose next to mine and hissing at me, “Margaret Dawson, don’t you EVER tell me a teewaddie again!” Teewaddie is eastern North Carolina speak for a big fat lie. I must have been about 5 or 6, and her technique was so effective, I doubt I ever told her another one.

There are facts, of course, and there are interpretations of facts, and sometimes it is difficult to separate them. The North Carolina Board of Education has been in the midst of just such a quandary, and it is not likely over yet. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements and the sketchy, relaxed relationship with the truth enjoyed by our former President and many of his supporters, the Board has been wrestling with how to teach North Carolina’s school children about inequity and injustice in American society.

Those are concepts not unlike art and pornography — hard to define, but we all know them when we see them. The 1898 coup d’etat in Wilmington, the only such overthrow of an elected government in American history, is a fact. It was not taught in schools during my public education because it had been spun in a different light. It has been well documented in recent years though by, among others, Philip Gerard in "Cape Fear Rising" (1994) and more recently in "Wilmington’s Lie" (2020) by David Zucchino, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and graduate of Terry Sanford High School. The coup d’etat, long buried in state and national history, should be part of social studies and history curricula at all levels in North Carolina schools and throughout our nation. Ditto for other documented events including civil rights activities, the women’s movement, and other historical events with both positive and negative connotations.

The Board struggled, and understandably so, over less concrete questions, including adjectives. Early proposals for social studies curriculum standards in included “systemic racism,” “system discrimination,” and “engender identity.” After fierce Board of Education debate over several months, a 7 to 5 vote has adopted standards that dropped those adjectives for less precise language. Still, it is a step in the right direction.

Proponents of social studies standards say the information will be more meaningful to students of color who now make up the majority of public school students in North Carolina. Opponents contend the standards project anti-American, anti-capitalist, and anti-democratic viewpoints. The fight is not over yet. Later this year, professional staff at the Department of Public Instruction will present additional documentation of how the new standards will be implemented in classrooms, which is sure to ignite yet another round of disagreement about what our children should learn and how they should learn it.

Most of us are not educators and know little about curriculum development of any sort. Most of us do have common sense, however, as have leaders of all stripes when they ponder truth, however painful. Here are three that ring true
to me.

“Truth will ultimately prevail where there is (sic) pains to bring it to light.” — George Washington

“Repetition does not translate a lie into a truth.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

And, chillingly, this from Sir Winston Churchill in a 1948 speech to Parliament. He was surely speaking about war, but it works just as well for discrimination and injustice.
“Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

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