I taught high school U.S. history for 17 years at a local parochial school before I came to Lansing. I was never instructed by the administration on how to teach the subject. No federal or state guidelines were mandated as to what approach should be taken to teach the subject. I was trusted only to practice what I was trained to do—to commit to teach the actual truth and not my interpretation of the truth. Because of that trust, I always honored that commitment.
Because the school was in the process of being integrated, I approached the history of the country before 1865 and that particular institution of slavery delicately. I concentrated on what was driving the economy of the southern states and why free labor was being used as a means to make the economy successful. I chose to take a view driven by what was happening north of the Mason-Dixon line and to the west as the country expanded. Black Americans were achieving great things in the North and that was important to remember.
I made my students understand that the process to eliminate the use of slavery culture was in a process of being stricken from the country. The word I used then was assimilation. America was being designed to be a melting pot of different races, creeds, and colors.
The legends of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison were presented with a critical eye, but I also introduced the achievements of Black Americans. I emphasized that all citizens who were part of the process had reason to be proud. I made it understood that because of the foundation of what was being created, America would overcome the stain of slavery on the process. Both the Black and the White students were surprised and proud of what was achieved by their ancestors and how they worked together instead of being of one race or another-they were Americans first.
I learned later, in studies of race relations, that my approach was already formalized. David Barton in his book Setting the Record straight-American History in Black and White had already done what I was teaching.
Let me review only some of them and ask yourself if you knew any of them:
A step backwards in the process was when the southern-based Democratic party began to obstruct what was developing. To remain as apolitical as possible I will only mention that the Democratic Congress passed a number of laws to impede the march to stamp out slavery.
Check for yourself the histories of the Missouri Compromise, Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision from the Supreme Court. Each of these should be studied before making statements about the history of slavery in the United States.
I would be happy to explore each of these issues further with all those interested.
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Thanks Bob, it is refreshing to hear someone be open and honest about US history.
Great to hear from you again. Are you still in the area?
WOW – Americans first! I love it.
Perhaps you should consider a “History Workshop” at the library for those interested in learning a bit more about our country’s history as it pertains to this subject. Your knowledge seems deep.
That was a great history lesson and that was how I was taught. God Bless America
Very Informative, thank you.
Yes! Very informative Bob! You were a very good teacher.
Great article Bob, very informative. By the way were you
the vice principle at Mother of Sorrows High School back in the seventies?
I am always happy to hear history being taught in it’s entirety, encompassing the good, bad and the ugly! In spite of that it seems like there was as effort that even during painful times to help students see, there was much good going on and history being made. This is even true today within our current climate.
Dear Mr. Malkas:
I wish you could have been my American History teacher at TF South in 1959. The teacher I had gave A-grades to anyone who could effectively parrot back exactly anything she said and demonstrate an attitude similar to hers about the state of American History. Critical thinking was not allowed. I don’t remember her mentioning Crispus Attucks or even Dred Scott during her classes. The closest she got to critical thinking was her statement that, in a democracy, we’re all supposed to be equal, but some of us are more equal than others. She gave me the impression that she thought that was a good thing.
By contrast, your outline is impressive and detailed. Your classes must have been amazing.
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