“George Washington was a traitor.”  The whole class was stunned.  How could a teacher of American history say such a thing?  After a long pause, he followed with, “He was considered a traitor by the British.”

That moment did not occur during an era of political correctness, nor did it happen in some liberal northern state.  This happened during my 8th grade year in East Texas in the mid 60’s.  The teacher was as old as the hills.  I remember it because something clicked inside me.  History is not just about facts.  It’s not just about names and dates and places.  History is also, and perhaps more so, about perspective.  And perspective is not so much about being right and proving someone else wrong.  It is about appreciating history from my experience and vantage point, and recognizing that the same history may be quite different from another’s experience and vantage point.

Appreciating multiple perspectives is a mark of cognitive complexity and emotional maturity.  By middle school, and certainly by high school, students should be able to consider history and social issues from more than a single perspective.  Unfortunately that level of maturity and complexity appears to have eluded Texas Senator Daniel Patrick and his colleagues who have headed the effort to do away with CSCOPE, the computer-based curriculum used across the state at every grade level.

Opponents of CSCOPE cite several items in the curriculum that supposedly promote un-American and un-Christian perspectives.  One such example, highlighted in the Reporter News last week, presents the actions of those who threw British tea into Boston Harbor in 1773.  Their actions are described without historical context and without reference to who did it and to whom it was done.  Students are then asked to evaluate whether or not the actions constituted terrorism.

With more than 200 years of American history to reflect on, we know that the Boston Tea Party was a pivotal event in the revolution that ultimately led to our independence from Great Britain.  From an American perspective these were actions of patriots, not terrorists.  Yet, the action was not universally acceptable even to citizens and leaders of the American Revolution, some of whom considered it unwise to destroy property and break laws even for a righteous cause.  To the British, of course, it was an act of treason.  So was this an act of terrorism or an act of defiance for a good cause?  Is it only considered terrorism if you are the target?  It depends on your perspective.

Education should and must go beyond the conveyance of facts and figures.  Education must be concerned with nurturing inquisitive minds, encouraging critical thinking, and developing the capacity to see and appreciate multiple perspectives.  Otherwise we are depriving our children of a skill that is increasingly necessary in today’s pluralistic society and global community.

American values, Christian values, and Texas values cannot be singular, provincial, and simplistic.  Limiting our perspective to only what we are familiar and comfortable with produces a narrow and skewed view of the world.

What we come to truly value gets internalized and becomes a part of who we are only when, through thought and experience, we carefully consider and weigh those ideas against other worthwhile ideas.  Otherwise we’re left with a simple set of rote beliefs that may or may not make a difference in our behavior.

Sadly, the legislators who led the charge to drop CSCOPE have violated some important conservative values to accomplish their purpose.  CSCOPE provided a common curriculum across most of the state and allowed local school districts and individual teachers to customize their curriculum to the students with whom they work.  Dropping CSCOPE without the consultation of educators and school administrators sends the message that local school districts and individual teachers are not to be trusted to know their own students and to make appropriate educational choices on their behalf.  Control is given instead to a small group of state bureaucrats, most of whom I suppose are not comfortable with complex thought and multiple perspectives.