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A Monumental Teaching Moment

Perspective. So much depends on perspective. Whether one stands or sits, when and where – the perspective may change. The answer to the question of what to do with Confederate statues is one of perspective. Should the statues be left alone? Should they be moved, shrouded? Should notes be added? I belong to the group – possibly a minority – wanting to add commentary to these statues.

That so many persons have chosen to express their views because the statues do not tell the whole story and/or they make some of us uncomfortable is laudable. But removing the statues reminds me of the Taliban and Isis destroying art; art that belongs to humanity. (Yes, if I were teaching a humanities class and a student chose a Confederate sculpture as the subject of an essay, I would not object. The student would have to answer questions other students posed about their art selection. I admit that I would want the student to mention the controversial history of the art, but including or excluding comments would not decrease the grade.) The “many sides” of the stories of these monuments ought to be told; removing these statues is the elimination of one side.

According to the U.S. Army Military History Institute, 623,026, (91.2%) of all Americans killed in wars, were killed in the Civil War, “the costliest war that America has ever fought.” Surely there will be differences of opinion about the cause[s] of the War. (As an African American educated in segregated schools in the South, I was always taught slavery was the cause of the war. Much later did I hear about states’ rights. At Gettysburg in 2015, I was told the best book on the Civil War is James McPherson’s Pulitzer Prize Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era in which a new, broader history is presented.)

Ignorance generally harms more than helps. By putting these monuments into context, we may be able to better understand how history remains an active player in the racism, inequity, inequality, social, political, and economic problems plaguing out country today, such as:

  • The inequity of access to quality education amongst various social and economic groups

  • Racial profiling and the differences in arrest rates and sentencing between persons of color and their white counterparts

  • Tax systems which unfairly burden low-income earners

If more citizens knew more sides of the stories, not only would we better understand how the US ever got into this predicament – perhaps, most importantly, we could also begin arriving to solutions for some of our many problems.

We cannot have changes in enough persons if most of us do not know the history of the country.

So, for those who sincerely wish the whole story to be told and make the uncomfortable comfortable, I suggest telling the whole story instead of removing or destroying the statues.

Who is to say that learning more of the history, especially the side not often portrayed in monuments, won’t help us all make the necessary changes in our hearts and minds so that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution become the reality of a more perfect Union. Or, at least, put us closer to becoming the America of which so many dream?

~Georgia S. McDade, Ph. D.

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