Truth is often difficult to hear, but it is essential to freedom for all.For decades, I have been astounded by all I was not taught… I wonder how we might have advanced if allowed to review and discuss these difficult revelations.

Dear Neighbor,

Throughout the history of our United States and our world, men consciously made decisions about how history is documented. They determined who, what, and how it will be remembered. It is a reality that politics, culture, and powerful institutions influence historians. These power brokers have varied reasons for exerting control: holding onto power, protecting forebearers, retaining their idea of societal norms, or shielding the innocent from the horrors of past misdeeds. Truth has little to do with it.

I grew up in the South and attended public schools. I loved school, studied hard, and did well. In other words, I paid attention.

As a female Baby Boomer, I was told I could choose a career: nurse, secretary, or teacher. The only American females I learned about who exceeded those norms were authors and Amelia Earhart. I assumed no successful American businesswomen, war heroes, athletes, or scientists existed. Heaven forbid, I would be encouraged to aspire to such.

I was not taught about the horrors of slavery and post-Civil War America, about the inequities of Jim Crow laws, or about successful Black Americans. I did learn about General Sherman and carpetbaggers ravaging the South, and oh yes, one Black man, George Washington Carver, the humble peanut scientist.

I knew several boys in my class were stigmatized in elementary school as sissies, but I had no idea what that meant until I was literally out of high school. Years later, I contacted one of them about a reunion. He responded, “No, thanks; I’ve put that horror behind me!” It breaks my heart to think of all they endured. No one taught me about LGBTQ+ people and those historical figures who suffered because of who they were.I’ve since had LGBTQ+ friends and family members describe the details of their backgrounds, the loneliness, torment, and discrimination.

I was educated about the “Indians” helping the needy Pilgrims, about ignorant “savages” who were bribed to assist foreign governments to make war against our stalwart early settlers, and about terrorizers like Sitting Bull and Geronimo. Like most children of my era, I learned primarily through the popular Westerns on television, where the only good Indian was Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s quiescent sidekick. I was never told about the millions of Indigenous people killed by Spanish Catholic missionaries/explorers through slavery and disease, or about the advanced cultures of the primarily agrarian Native Americans. They numbered in the millions and were far from savages. They simply had land our European ancestors wanted…at any cost.

For decades, I have been astounded by all I was not taught. I realize some chose to protect our innocence while others wanted us to be proud of our American heritage no matter how flawed. Our education was filtered into pablum. I wonder how we might have advanced if allowed to review and discuss these difficult revelations. At the very least, we could have learned critical thinking skills and possibly how not to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

It’s not just education in the 50s and 60s that was heavily redacted. In the 1990s my daughter took several intensive university classes on racism, yet the race massacres in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Wilmington, North Carolina, were never mentioned. My grandchildren scoff at state laws that hope to whitewash history and control teachers and libraries and societal change. They know politicians who pass restrictive laws are politically motivated because students can find the information they seek on the Internet.

What about children whose knowledge comes solely from the curriculum? Will it be like my limited education? Our public school system continues to bleed teachers. Do we really want legislation that stifles educators’ freedom to speak truth and limits what can be read and discussed? Will truth and honesty be abandoned for societal control by a few? A large majority of US citizens are against legislation to muffle teachers and ban books, yet restrictive laws are passed, including here in North Carolina. Though often targeting gender issues, these laws were written broadly, so local school boards could interpret them for their own agendas and use them to suppress books or restrict educators. 

Truth is often difficult to hear, but it is essential to freedom for all.

Dear Neighbor” authors are united in a belief that civility and passion can coexist. We believe curiosity and conversation make us a better community.

Donna Prunkl