Are We Doomed Through Censorship to Repeat Our Mistakes?

Not to wax political, but it’s almost impossible for me not to talk about censorship this week. As many of my author friends are blogging about Banned Books Week, I’ve been taking note of a different type of censorship.

Recently, high school students and teachers in several Denver schools walked out to protest a school board proposal calling for regular reviews to ensure that history instruction will “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

As an historian and the author of six works of historical fiction, this comment naturally concerns me. To me, the study of history is one of the primary ways in which children can learn critical thinking skills. We should want them to question whether our nation’s actions were always correct or if we could have done things differently. We should encourage them to speak out about injustices and advocate for change. We should, of course, instruct them in how to do it safely and without harm to others, but we should never seek to stifle their ideas.

The old adage that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it stands true. Had we not remembered the injustice of the Japanese internment camps during WWII, we might have listened to the hotheads who suggested we round up innocent Arab-Americans after 9/11.

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” board member Julie Williams said. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place.” This a common complaint I hear from those who think that patriotism can only be fostered in a heart that sees no wrong. I love this country. Always have. But I love it partly because we are one of the greatest experiments in human civilization.

We are the melting pot, bringing together peoples of every race, nationality, faith, and opinion. We are constantly testing our Constitution, our judicial system, our legislative policies. We fail as often as we succeed, but we never stop trying, and that’s why people continue to flock to our shores. Not because we are perfect, but because there’s still the possibility that we could become so.