Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling BDN Agree to Disagree bloggers. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on

Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.

Ethan: How fitting. With the onset of Black History Month, one of the leaders of the GOP, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, just whitewashed the study of African American history in Florida schools.

Phil: Fake news. DeSantis pointed out that a new course was being offered that pushed Black Lives Matter, critical race theory and queer studies. None of these belong in a K-12 classroom under the guise of history and none have anything to do with learning the basics that every student must learn to graduate from high school.

Ethan: I love when conservatives, who claim to believe that the government should stay out of our lives, start dictating what we should and shouldn’t learn. What books we should or shouldn’t read. What ideas we should or shouldn’t think about.

Phil: Parents have the right to teach their children whatever they want. Give them whatever books they want. Express whatever ideas they think their children should hear. They shouldn’t have to worry about their child being forced to learn an ideologically driven curriculum from someone else.

Ethan: Learning about Black history, grappling with the sin of slavery and its legacy, and learning about the movements that have helped us make America a more perfect union is not ideological. Whether you want to accept it or not, American history is not just white history.

Phil: You just made my point. It’s American History, not someone’s color or religion. There isn’t a student in America who learned about the Civil War that didn’t know it was a war over whether citizens could own slaves. What many oppose, however, is claiming that the impacts of slavery and racism from more than 150 years ago are still permeating America today. 

Ethan: Except that it is. From the families of white enslavers who built their fortunes on the backs of Blacks to the families of freed slaves who were never compensated for the wealth their great-great grandparents created. From ending reconstruction policies that wiped out many of the gains of the Civil War to Jim Crow and redlining laws that kept opportunity from Black families. From police departments that were literally created to enforce slavery to the disproportionate mistreatment people of color receive from those same police departments today. You can’t get away from the historical roots of today’s racism no matter how hard you try.

Phil: I’m not trying to. I’m just encouraging you to put a wider angle lens on your camera. We need to stop identifying ourselves by color, religion or ethnicity, etc. We are Americans with a history that needs to be taught in the context of where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.

Ethan: I agree with you there. I just want an honest reckoning of “where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.” That includes the legacies of slavery and racism in America.

Phil: Will tearing down the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial because they were slave owners make us stronger? Will expunging the history of President’s Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used their power to disadvantage Blacks, correct their mistakes? Should the churches, universities and health care facilities who received donations from slave owner families be forced to return it? Will all that make it right? 

Ethan: Nothing makes it right. But ignoring it makes it worse. 

Phil: I’m proud to say my ancestors fought at the battle of Lexington and Concord and in the Civil War to free the enslaved.

Ethan: As you should be. I just wish you also felt that the history and legacy of those freed should also be told.