My Turn: You’ve got to be taught


Published: 2/1/2021 4:47:56 PM

Recent news reminded me of the show tune “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” I first heard that song when I was working on a production of “South Pacific” at the South Shore Music Theatre in Cohasset, Massachusetts in the late ‘50s. The classic 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical focused on relationships between different races and ethnic groups. This show tune attracted widespread criticism and was judged by some as “too controversial” and inappropriate for the musical stage.

I don’t have enough space to include all the lyrics so I’ll jump to the last verse:

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

My memory was evoked by President Biden’s revocation of the recent Trump administration report endorsing “patriotic education.” Yale’s Civil War historian David Blight nailed the Trump report as “a piece of right-wing propaganda.”

Systemic racism lives on in conservative education circles. One egregious example is Hillsdale (Michigan) College. Founded in 1844 by abolitionists known as Free Will Baptists, Hillsdale’s mission values the merit of each unique individual, rather than “succumbing to the dehumanizing, discriminatory trend of so-called ‘social justice’ and ‘multicultural diversity.’”

In an email I received from Hillsdale College, college president Larry P. Arnn, wrote: “On September 17, Constitution Day, I chaired a panel organized by the White House. It was an extraordinary thing. The panel’s purpose was to identify what has gone wrong in the teaching of American history and to lay forth a plan for recovering the truth.” Arnn then noted that “When we were done, President Trump came and gave a speech about the beauty of the American Founding and the importance of teaching American history to the preservation of freedom.”

The panel was a Trump initiative “mostly ignored by the media,” Arnn continued, “to counter the New York Times’ 1619 Project. The 1619 Project promotes the teaching that slavery, not freedom, is the defining fact of American history. President Trump’s 1776 Commission aims to restore truth and honesty to the teaching of American history.”

The commission included not one professional historian.

Arnn wrote “American schoolchildren today learn two things about Thomas Jefferson: that he wrote the Declaration of Independence and that he was a slaveholder. This is a stunted and dishonest teaching about Jefferson.”

“What do our schoolchildren not learn?” he went on; complaining that students don’t learn that Jefferson wrote “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just” in Notes on the State of Virginia regarding the contest between the “master” and the “slave.”

Our founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both “owned” slaves. However, unlike our first president who eventually freed his slaves, Jefferson did not believe that all were created equal. Like all slaveholders and many other white members of American society, Jefferson regarded Negroes as inferior, childlike, untrustworthy and, of course, as property.

Larry Arnn blunted this piece of history by writing “The astounding thing, after all, is not that some of our Founders were slaveholders. There was a lot of slavery back then, as there had been for all of recorded time.” (So that makes it OK?) “The astounding thing” Arnn goes on to say, “the miracle, even, one might say — is that these slaveholders founded a republic based on principles designed to abnegate slavery.”

Systemic racism has been present in America from the git go.

I have often asked myself why it was that I was taught what I now know to be an incomplete history of America. Why was that?

Almost immediately after the Civil War, white Southerners and their sympathizers adopted an ideology called “the lost cause,” an outlook that softened the brutality of enslavement and justified its immorality. One proponent of the ideology was Edward Pollard, whose book “The Lost Cause” transformed many Confederate generals and soldiers into heroes and argued that slavery was proper, because Black people were inferior. Over time, the “lost cause” theory became so ingrained in our collective thinking that even today people believe that the Civil War was about the South’s asserting its rights against the North, not about slavery.

“For those who would influence textbooks and teaching,” historian Joseph Moreau said — “Protestant elites in the 1870s, Irish Americans in the 1920s, and conservative politicians today, the sky has always been falling.”

So it was with the white supremacist beliefs that Trump’s presidential 1776 Commission worked to ensure.

Greenfield resident John Bos, a regular contributor to the Recorder’s op-ed page, is a columnist for Green Energy Times and frequent contributor to Citizen Truth. Comments and questions are invited at


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