The Soviet Union is evil. That’s what I learned in my third grade history class. It’s one of the few school lessons that I remember in vivid detail, right down to where I was sitting in the class when it was being taught.
It was the early 80’s and even though I wasn’t aware of it, the Cold War was raging. The lesson revolved around how the Soviet Union used to be called Russia, but now it was a communist nation. That meant that the individuals who lived there had no rights. In fact, my teacher said, if we were to try to visit the Soviet Union there would be people who would tell us where we could go and what we could see. There was absolutely no freedom for the poor people of the Soviet Union.
The lesson hit me hard. I was confused and angry that a government would behave in such a way and I was sad for the people that lived there. Why would anyone want to be a communist? Communism is bad. The Soviet Union is evil.
Looking at this through adult eyes, I easily recognize this not as a history lesson, but as propaganda. I’m still angered by the lesson, but not because of communism, but by the fact that at a young age I was manipulated by a school curriculum.
This is why some parts of this recent article about events in Texas by the Board of Education are worrisome. The New York Times article is about how members of the Texas Board of Education make amendments to their state’s curriculum. The board is so influential that their decisions could end up affecting school policies around the country.
In one section the article talks about one very aggressive board member, Don McLeroy, who was trying to get items such as the “conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s”, the Contract With America, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association on the Texas school curriculum.
From the article:
The injection of partisan politics into education went so far that at one point another Republican board member burst out in seemingly embarrassed exasperation, “Guys, you’re rewriting history now!” Nevertheless, most of McLeroy’s proposed amendments passed by a show of hands.
Kids’ minds are sponges, absorbing everything put in front of them. They are also trusting. They are navigating how the world works and have not yet built cynical calluses that cause them to question things, like us adults have. Because of this, we need to be very careful what we teach our children. A simple lesson in the third grade could inform a kid’s thinking for the rest of their lives.
As a child, I was taught that communism was evil. Decades earlier this kind of thinking led to things like the Hollywood Blacklist. Thankfully, by the time I reached high school the Berlin Wall came down officially ending the Cold War. Though communist nations remain, the Russians were no longer our sworn enemy and the paranoia about communism started eroding. The lesson from my youth was no longer valid. But nonetheless a strong impression had been made. I had been taught to hate.
Please don't misunderstand me. People absolutely have the right to maintain their own political and religious beliefs and teach them to their children. But when it comes to school curriculums, we need to make sure that the personal ideologies of some do not influence all.
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