Chris Lehmann challenged us (EduBloggers) last week to join the conversation about the police shooting of an 18 year old African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri and militarized posturing of law enforcement against the resulting protests. To be honest, I was not fully aware of the situation, too focused on getting my daughter ready to return to college and establishing a second residence to be closer to my and my wife’s parents.
I’ll agree wholeheartedly with all of Chris’ sentiments here, here and here, and would expound on them if I could. But, as a white, anglo saxon, protestant, eighth generation American, whose grandfather’s grandfather probably owned slaves, I honestly do not feel worthy to ardently express righteous sympathy with what I would characterize as second Americans. White man’s guilt?
I would like to ask a different question, though – and not as an attempt to distract us from a conversation about the unfulfilled promises (myths) of the American Dream. I ask this alternate question because I believe that there is another struggle happening here, one that possibly goes back to the beginnings of this country.
Looking at the picture to the right, I do not see how anyone could disagree with calling this a militarized police presence. But where did all that military hardware come from? Who bought it? ..and why? ..and Who got paid for it?
If we agree that one reason for learning (being taught) history is to avoid making its mistakes1, then here might be a useful starting question, “What were the historical mistakes that led to the situation of this picture?”
This could go almost anywhere in human history, of course, and why should formal learning experiences be limited (by testable standards)? But that’s a different issue — maybe.
We might, for instance, go no further than a little more than a decade ago, when 19 mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists, attacked the United States at it’s heart, New York City. Those 19 mostly Saudi Arabian men, using our own technology against us, were effective nearly beyond anyone’s imagination.
Our response was to make war in Afghanistan and Iraq and declare war on terror, establishing the Department of Homeland Security. Although little else happened here, local police forces still find themselves armed for terror both from without and within. ..And you know what they say about a hammer.2
I would suggest that we responsibly and effectively teach history to avoid its mistakes, but also as a guard against having history re-written for us.
I will close here by suggesting that we ask students utilize contemporary literacy skills and do what Deep Throat3 said, “Follow the Money.”
1 A paraphrasing of George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“Santayana, G. (1905). The life of reason. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15000
2 The Law of the Instrument, or as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.“
3 Deep Throat is the pseudonym given to the secret informant who provided information toBob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post in 1972 about the involvement of United States President Richard Nixon‘s administration in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal.