Arthur Herman: Message to DeSantis – civics important but here's what we really need to teach our kids

Florida Gov. DeSantis condemns critical race theory in schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis promises to keep critical race theory out of schools in Florida; ‘Fox and Friends’ hosts weigh in.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has earned criticism as well as plaudits for announcing on Wednesday that critical race theory, which teaches that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country, will have no place in the state’s new civics education program.  

“A high-quality education begins with a high-quality curriculum,” the governor said, adding that his $16 million civics curriculum initiative will not be “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.”  

I have a message for Gov. DeSantis: Right problem, wrong solution.  

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The real solution isn’t boring and bloodless civics courses, which all too often provide cover for the left to sneak in their agenda under the guise of promoting “good citizenship,” but teaching American history: the real American history, full of drama, pageantry, struggle and heartbreak, but also triumph and greatness; and all built around the theme of the constant striving to secure and protect the freedom of the individual.  

It’s the pursuit of liberty that has united Americans from the beginning and remains our most precious legacy to the future – and defines the epic of American exceptionalism.   

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The course would start with the settlement of North America, first from Asia then from Europe; followed by the struggle of the original British colonies to free themselves from foreign domination, first from the French and then from the government in London.   

Then it would trace the trials and struggles of the new republic from revolution in 1776 to civil war in 1861-65, showing how the experience of that conflict has shaped the character of America ever since.   

Next, it would cover the changes that occurred in America after 1865 to World War II, including the massive influx of immigrants from Europe and from the Jim Crow South into northern cities and into the heartland and West Coast. 

After that, it would explore America’s role in the world after World War II through today, from the Cold War to the technological revolutions of Silicon Valley.   

From start to finish, however, the epic story would center on how individuals, rich and poor, great and small, from every race and sex and creed, have discovered and used their freedom in America to advance the freedom of others: as politicians, thinkers and activists, religious and business leaders, and above all as immigrants to a land and country that gave them the freedom they yearned for and could not find anywhere else.  

In fact, it’s the story critical race theorists don’t want our children to learn about: America as the transformative nation that banishes the dismal legacies of the past, whether it’s slavery or religious bigotry or structural poverty and ignorance, and has built instead a unique national character based on common political ideals and shared experiences.   

Children also need to learn from this history that no nation is perfect, not even their own.

It’s the story of a nation dedicated from its start to a single powerful proposition, that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and the institutions that govern our society – including our three branches of government and our federal system – were built to secure and protect those rights, and still do today.   

It’s also about the real America race theorists can’t explain: the one that has been a magnet for immigrants from around the world from its very beginning.   

If America were such a racist cesspool, then why would any non-White person risk everything to come here; and why would the descendants of the enslaved and dispossessed Native Americans want to stay? Our history explains why far better than any civics course could. 

Children also need to learn from this history that no nation is perfect, not even their own. They will learn that America’s struggle to free its peoples from the burdens of the past has not always been successful, whether that burden is slavery, poverty, racism or toxic ideologies like fascism in the 20th century and Marxism today.  

The point is, it always has been a struggle, conscious and deliberate; and while America’s history is populated by villains as well as heroes and heroines, all of them are part of a single great dramatic story, the story of America’s pursuit of liberty; the pursuit that ultimately makes us all one.  

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In the end, critical race theory is about stealing away our children’s freedom. The study of history is about restoring it, by giving it a basis in truth and fact rather than ideology.    

It’s time to turn our study of the past into a tool to set our future free.  

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