A Complete History Lets Us Take Pride in Progress

Woman holding a red umbrella

In most contexts, we take pride in progress. When we see ourselves starting out at a lower level of mastery and advancing to a higher level, it feels good. We've learned something. We've grown. We're getting better.

Remember what it was like the first time you tried to drive a motor vehicle? It wasn't as easy as the adults around you made it look, was it? I remember stalling, grinding gears, running into a curb, and more. It felt like I'd never get it right. It doesn't feel that way today.

Our evaluations of others follow a similar pattern. We don't expect everyone to be born perfect. We give credit for progress. Someone who achieves despite many struggles is worthy of celebrating. Someone who overcomes hardships to do great things is heroic. We disparage those who had it easy; we admire those who overcame.

Why shouldn't the same be true for a country like the United States? Why shouldn't our progress be a source of pride?

Many Republicans today want to prevent public schools from teaching a complete history. They worry that children who learn about our flaws will become part of the "blame America first crowd." But why would this be the case? Why should we deprive our children of the opportunity to learn about our progress?

Is the United States still afflicted by racism today? Yes, there's little question about this. The evidence is all around us that we have a long way to go. Has the United States made significant progress on race since the 1950s? Yes, we have. This is a good thing, and it should be a source of pride. And both of these things can be true at the same time. We still have work to do, and we have made a lot of progress.

U.S. history is full of many appalling examples of how we've mistreated others. Learning about them doesn't lead people to shame. In almost every case, we can identify evidence of progress. How is that not a source of pride?

We should want our children to have the most accurate history possible. This is what America was, warts and all. This helps them understand the context in which they live. It helps them comprehend why we have some of the problems we have today. It should also help them realize how far we've come.

Some conservatives don't want an accurate history because they think it will undermine patriotism. Some liberals don't want an accurate history because they think it will undermine activism. Both are wrong. We need to learn about our past atrocities to understand ourselves and plot the way forward. Our progress should be a source of pride, but it need not obscure our focus on the problems that persist.

When we have an accurate history, more of what is happening around us now makes sense. Whatever comes next is less likely to catch us off guard. That is, having an accurate history equips us to deal with our present and our future.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay