In a recent article published in The News & Observer, N.C. Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, shared his concerns about House Bill 187. He suggests that the bill is a “covert” attempt to “erase” or “cover up” history. Blue sees the bill as an affront to proper historical education and is urging those who share his views to “stand strong and fight this war against our own history.” 

The bill is currently sitting in the Senate Rules Committee after passing entirely along partisan lines in the House.

Blue is jumping to conclusions, though, when he suggests H.B. 187 “will remove important parts of our nation’s history from the classroom.” Taking a quick look at the actual language of the bill, it’s not evident why that would be the case. The bill simply prohibits the promotion of the 13 below positions:

  1. One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  2. An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.
  3. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.
  4. An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.
  5. An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  6. Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.
  7. A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.
  8. The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.
  9. The United States government should be violently overthrown.
  10. Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex.
  11. The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.
  12. All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  13. Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

Which of the above does Blue believe need to be taught in order for students to get the full story of U.S. history?

The aim of the bill is to remove unproductive narrative techniques from our education system that divide students based on race and give a negative view of the nation. We should all be supportive of this aim as it is an attempt to realign our K-12 education system towards useful knowledge and not identity politics. 

As you can see in the chart below, from a recent Wall Street Journal/NORC poll, the degree to which the average American values their nation, family, church, community, and other uniting institutions has plummeted in recent years. The reckless way that many on the left speak on history has played no small part in this shift in perspective among younger generations.

But we don’t need to have divisive, identitarian narratives embedded in our teaching in order to teach the full history, including difficult periods like slavery and Jim Crow. For instance, Rosa Parks’ struggle can be taught, not as an effort to advance a group identity in a permanent struggle against another race, but as a fight to have the same rights as every other individual in society. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts can be taught, not as fighting against “white privilege,” but rather as an effort to be seen as an equal member of society. Another good story would be about the first black North Carolina speaker of the House, Dan Blue, and how he was able to achieve what he has.

As we can clearly see, nothing changes in terms of the facts of history. The focus is realigned to be about individual liberty, equality, and dignity — values that unite — rather than narratives that divide by advancing identity politics. 

Who’s really to blame?

If we are to assign blame, then rather than focusing on an entire race or nation, let’s entertain the idea of instructing our educators to put the blame on political parties and their specific policies that marginalized minority groups. After all, slavery was a policy position. The Trail of Tears was a policy position. Accordingly, when talking about these historical events, we could do what we typically do when talking about Germany between the 1930s and 1940s: put the blame on the political party in power at the time.  

Democrats will get a little, if not a lot, nervous about this idea, however. But, as Blue tells us, “history…deserves to be told.”

Which political party pushed for maintaining the institution of slavery? The Democratic Party in the Southern states. Why were Reconstruction policies after the Civil War relatively unsuccessful? Once Democrats regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1870s, they advanced legislation to undo Reconstruction-era policies. From the 1880s to the 1960s, who advanced Jim Crow laws that led to racial segregation? It was Southern Democrats who dominated state legislatures during that time. Which political party filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964? U.S. Senate Democrats filibustered the Civil Rights Act to prevent its passing, which also gave them the record for the longest filibuster.  

The aforementioned information is factual, so why not advance the fact that political parties and their policy positions have led to some of history’s most morally reprehensible policy decisions? After all, this is common practice today. The Great Recession of 2008 is regularly attributed to Republicans being too soft with financial regulations. The crime waves in major cities are regularly attributed to Democrats being soft on crime. 

However, I suspect Sen. Blue and his Democratic Party supporters would reject these facts of history being framed in this way, as it would paint an uncomfortable picture of the Democratic Party. They may even complain that teaching history in that way would unnecessarily draw in modern politics in a divisive way, when we should be teaching to inform students and presenting them a uniting narrative. That’s certainly a concern we should all keep in mind.