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Jeffery Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving and is an advocate for the rights of fathers. He wrote this column for the Chicago Tribune.
“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
This is a quote from George Orwell’s “1984,” a book published in 1949 that is sadly relevant today. While “1984″ is a work of fiction, it’s a cautionary tale that seems to be playing out today with censorship of books and government-enforced bans on the teaching of certain things in several states.
Hiding from history does not make it go away or any less true. Sometimes, history is not something to be proud of, and yes, sometimes it rightly makes us uncomfortable. Yet that is often how learning is achieved.
In Chicago, all eighth graders and high school sophomores will learn about the decades-long torture and abuse tied to disgraced former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge as part of a mandated Chicago Public Schools curriculum. I don’t think anyone could make a serious argument that learning about this makes a student hate the police. Rather, it explains what happened and how it went on for so long in hopes that it will never happen again.
In Germany, teaching about the Holocaust and the Nazi era is mandatory in schools, and in addition to the classroom curriculum, almost all students have either visited a concentration camp or a Holocaust memorial or museum, according to a PBS “Frontline” report.
Germany wants to prevent denial of the Holocaust and ensure that this genocide never happens again. I’m a Jewish man whose family was affected by the Holocaust, and this topic is close to my heart. I know that “Never Again” is not just a slogan. It’s a mantra and a key to ensuring the slaughter of 6 million Jewish people never happens again — or to anyone, anywhere.
Can you imagine the outrage if German politicians tried to outlaw these teachings because some claimed that such lessons give German children feelings of guilt or are divisive? Yet, some politicians in the U.S. are using those reasons as they pursue laws to stop schools from teaching about aspects of Black history and LGBTQ history.
Florida seems to be at the forefront of this trend, and Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting a lot of backlash. But notably, more than two dozen states have adopted some sort of measure against the teaching of critical race theory, according to a tracking project by the University of California at Los Angeles Law School.
Also, notably, “Black history” and “LGBTQ history” are American history. These communities have played vital roles in our country, as have many cultures, nationalities and religions. Learning about LGBTQ issues will not turn a child gay. Rather, it may provide students with a sense of empathy, and that never is a bad thing. The same goes for learning about Black history.
It’s ironic that one of the arguments DeSantis is making in favor of limiting what can be taught in schools is that these actions are in the interest of academic freedom — when the exact opposite appears to be true. It reminds me of another Orwell quote, from his novel “Animal Farm”: “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
The government should not control what is taught. That should remain the territory of academics who have their students’ best interests in mind, not outsiders who may want to downplay or deny things under the guise of keeping students comfortable.
No one should control or own the narrative of history, especially politicians. Many points of view should be presented, and students should be trusted to glean from them what they may.