Why promote ignorance? Isn’t there enough of it in the world? In a recent vote, the Association for the Library Service to Childrenagreed to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award due to its racial insensitivity. Prior to this, Dr. Seuss was criticized and condemned. Yes, Dr. Seuss…Mr. “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” That Dr. Seuss. Definitely criminal language there… Both are labeled as insensitive to issues pertaining to race. Racism is a serious topic and one that should not be taken lightly. But removing books or renaming awards does not support learning or teachable moments. Here are a few other examples of renaming. In Boston, Yawkey Way has been renamed to Jersey Street due to allegations that Thomas Yawkey, once Red Sox owner, was a racist. Now, Faneuil Hall is on the list since it too is considered racist being named after a slave owner, Peter Faneuil.
Here is the issue: History teaches us lessons. Many of these lessons are painful and uncomfortable, but important nonetheless. By erasing and renaming we are not learning, rather we are repeating. If we remove books and names are we changing anything? The answer is no. History does not go away, nor should it. By leaving books on shelves and names on buildings we are not overlooking horrific moments, such as slavery or unfair trials, most certainly not. But removing these tragic moments from history books or sites does not allow us to educate. Instead, it promotes ignorance. Also, let’s keep in mind that erasing instances in history such as slavery from history books is disrespectful to those who suffered. Why? Because through the removal of their story we are not acknowledging their life or their suffering. That is the worst type of ignorance.
If we remove parts of history for fear of upsetting someone, we learn no valuable lessons about humanity, life, change, history or what we as Americans and human beings need to do to be better people. History is our story, for better or worse. In basic social studies courses across America we see pieces of history being erased. Not telling students about parts of history does not change that it happened. Renaming buildings and streets and taking down monuments do not make things better for children or our country. History is not meant to be erased, but remembered, challenged, and learned from. Ignorance is poison, haven’t we learned that, yet?
As Americans we learn the “never again” statement from a very early age. Why? Because the worst parts of history teach us that we must learn to be better versions of ourselves, which is a very positive message. Rather, ignorance is being promoted in classrooms and society at large by removing, books, words and history that are labeled as shameful. Yes, there have been numerous examples in both America and world history that are lamentable. We must educate our students and everyone for that matter about these moments, so that they do not repeat the same mistakes and instead become better stewards of their lives and others.
What are we teaching students and ourselves, then? If we erase history and we remove words, events, ideas and valuable knowledge, then what will we know? No longer can one speak of history, God, religion, politics, gender, race, ethnicity. The list goes on and on. This is precisely why the term snowflake has become so popular. These conversations are necessary not only for understanding history but our current state of affairs. Without these discussions we become ignorant. This is exactly what is taking place in our beloved America. Our great country was built on differences and came to flourish because of them, not in spite of them. No one denies that perfection does not exist in our society and of course there is work to be done. But nothing great will be achieved if we continue to promote ignorance. History is not perfect and is rife with tragedy, war, destruction and tumult. But this is how we learn. We take these moments and question them. We re-examine them. We figure things out, for better or worse and we make the best attempt possible to grow and change. We cannot do this if we pretend that it did not happen.
We learn from the worst moments in our lives. We learn from the past. We learn from mistakes, failure and under the harshest of conditions. Without these moments we do not evolve and change for the better. So, it is here that I say, as an educator, do not erase, but teach. Educate about the tragedies and trials of our past so that we better understand the good in this world. Teach so that we can be better human beings and to be the change. Teach so that we learn to live and give, to prosper and pay it forward, to be kind and live well so that we stand as an emblem of the best parts of this world. We can only improve on who we are as people if we learn from the past. Promoting ignorance does not encourage this, instead it perpetuates the cycle and does not promote a better future.
Lauren E. Forcucci is an educator, writer, and proud American. She is the daughter of an immigrant, the granddaughter of a veteran, and a friend and supporter of active-duty military, veterans, and police. She’s also a proud Whiskey Patriot.