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I understand the desire for people to say after this weekend’s violence that we must “teach love.” But it’s such an insipid and inadequate response to what happened in Charlottesville. We must teach history. Indeed we must radically reshape what and how it is taught, particularly in K–12.

That includes a much more frank exploration of oppression and how it’s so deeply intertwined with the history of this country – of our institutions and our practices. It means too, as Christina Torres points out, helping students understand that the past is not past. But it also means teaching about resistance – protests, pamphleting, marches, strikes, and subterfuge. Resistance to slavery, white supremacy, genocide, anti-Semitism, capitalism, and patriarchy. This too is our heritage.

And all this means talking too about how both oppression and resistance have been international (and internationalist) efforts – how apartheid in South Africa, for example, borrowed from Jim Crow, or where and when the Antifa originated (and when and why it resurfaced).

I bet no US history textbook addresses either. And I’d contend you can’t understand what happened in Charlottesville this weekend without knowing something about these histories and legacies.

It’s pretty easy to say “teach love.” It’s another thing entirely to take action to dismantle white supremacy in the curriculum and the classroom practices of K–12 education. See, for example, the hashtag #CharlottesvilleCurriculum started by Melinda D. Anderson and “The Charlottesville Syllabus” from the UVA Graduate Coalition – two resources (many resources, really) that are starting points for understanding, contextualizing, and teaching about this weekend’s events.

We must teach history – and teach with an eye toward de-colonization, anti-racism, and justice. We must teach history – and teach historiography and how these stories about the past are fashioned and told.

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For everyone who expressed shock about Charlottesville and insisted that “this isn’t America,” it’s pretty clear that your history classes failed you. Because this is America. We have to fundamentally alter how we teach history – and that means teaching about hate, not just love. It means teaching about American evils, not just American exceptionalism. It means teaching about resistance too, not just oppression. And it means rethinking all the practices tied up in our educational institutions – systemic and interpersonal practices that perpetuate this weekend’s violence.

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Audrey Watters


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Audrey Watters

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