In the current academic climate, teaching social justice has become more important than content. This is especially true in the fields of history and civic education.
For example, teacher training at the University of Illinois is centered around social justice, as more than one student teacher has related to me during informal interviews. Where once the emphasis was on such topics as Bloom’s taxonomy and classroom management, social justice topics seem to have taken precedence.
If alarm bells are not going off in your head right now, they should be.
Those of us who teach history or civics, whether at the high school or collegiate levels, are at the forefront of this battle. (Yes, it is not incorrect to call this a battle.) History is oftentimes in conflict, as those who want to forward a political agenda are often pitted against those who seek to teach honest historical inquiry so that students, through prudent study, can arrive at their own conclusions.
History is not wrong. Those who teach it with a bias in order to forward a set of political ideals are.
Historiography, the way history is researched and told, has tentacles of different stripes based largely on time period. The Ancient Greeks and Romans told their histories in an effort to influence morality and what they considered to be the qualities of good men. Eventually, days and dates were included so as to preserve the great deeds of kings and queens for posterity’s sake, with critical histories being published only after the death of a monarch.
The 19th century saw the rise of a new kind of history with the advent of the Prussian School. It featured such luminaries as J.G. Droysen, Max Duncker, and the bombastic Heinrich von Treitschke, whose “History of Germany in the 19th Century” is entertaining due to his naked devotion to Prussia and Greater Germany at the expense of historical objectivity.
The Prussian School sought to teach history in such a way as to influence German unification so that it aligned with Prussia, the powerful militaristic state of the 19th century, rather than Austria, the state that dominated Central Europe dating back to the Golden Bull of 1356. Histories authored by Prussian School adherents were biased in every way, emphasizing the greatness of the Prussian model of state and society, along with a consistent message of Germanic greatness. In the end, through a complicated political process begun by Otto von Bismarck, the fertile ground of German consciousness planted with Prussian School seeds was eventually harvested to create modern Germany in 1871.
Today, we are facing a similar movement at all levels of education in our nation, with the profession dominated by those who profess to be “Left” in thought and action. According to The Washington Times, liberal professors outnumber conservatives 12:1, with similar studies indicating even higher percentages.
The aim of self-professed trade magazines such as the American Educator is to expound critical race theory and social justice agendas at the expense of true historical inquiry and civics education. This is tantamount to indoctrination of unsuspecting students and, in some cases, undercutting the parents’ role in the education of their children.
This tidal wave of wokeness has also made its way into the professional development of teachers. Mandatory seminars on implicit bias, critical race theory, and social justice are now commonplace in high schools and colleges, even seeping into grade schools. The art of teaching is being colored by the aims of the social justice movement at the expense of content, fairness, and critical thinking skills. The Prussian School is alive and well, but now, rather than teaching German unification under Prussia, it is professing social justice. This movement is training an entire generation of students and teachers using biased and historically inaccurate history such as the New York Times’s “1619 Project” for nakedly political ends.
Currently, an Illinois proposal entitled “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” has been approved by the Illinois Board of Education. Should it be approved by the Illinois General Assembly, Illinois teachers will be required to teach both history and civics according to what amounts to “woke” standards. Failure to do so could result in a teacher losing his teaching license in Illinois. Should it pass, this mandate would be likely implemented nationwide.
If that happens, the death knell will have been sounded for honest historical and civics inquiry and teaching, something that Americans cannot and should not tolerate.
Michael DiMatteo has taught American, European, and world history and political science in the Illinois school system, both public and private, for over 32 years. In 2010, he was recognized as an Illinois Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction. His writings can be found at Think31.com.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.