History

I know it’s not a respectful comparison.

But it’s honestly what came to my mind.

When I heard a Colorado school board planned to alter how they teach history in order to focus on patriotism and downplay civil disobedience, the image that sprang to my mind was Dolores Umbridge.

If you are unfamiliar with Harry Potter books/movies, Umbridge was a narrow-minded, sadistic busybody who took over Harry’s school and imposed severe restrictions on the students, teachers, the curriculum and life in general.

All in the name of upholding decency and standards.

Her version of decency and standards.

Spoiler alert: She is defeated. Spectacularly.

It’s ironic that her name, though spelled differently, brings to mind “umbrage” – defined as a feeling of being offended by what someone has said or done.

She was offended by just about anything anyone said or did.

And she used her position of power and authority to shut them down.

It’s been heartening to see the Colorado students and their families and teachers get involved and voice their concerns about the proposed curriculum policy. Their protest is probably just about the best history lesson they could have learned this year.

They’re learning about history as they participate in making it.

They will learn that all history (no matter how presented) should be studied with a critical eye as to who wrote it, that person or group’s particular perspective and what other versions of the same “history” there might be floating around out there.

They will learn that it’s OK to express, examine and debate multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

They’ll even learn that their own opinions and perspectives on history will likely change over time.

If done with respect, this is not a dangerous activity for the individual or for society.

During my college days I spent my junior year abroad – in Heidelberg, West Germany. That March a group of us traveled across the border to visit East Germany for more than a week.

We saw museums and historic sites – all interpreted through the perspective of communism.

This brought me face to face with the “author of history” syndrome.

These museums and sites were explaining and describing the same eras of history we had learned from our own western perspective.

But the explanations and descriptions were different.

A group of very young East German children is led by a grownup past a large imposing stone building. A banner across the building says in German "Unshakable Brotherhood with the Soviet Union." Photo taken in 1983.

A group of very young East German children is led by a grownup past a large imposing stone building. The banner across the building heralds the “Unshakable Brotherhood with the Soviet Union.” I took this photo in March 1983 – just six and a half years before the “brotherhood” was shaken…and the Berlin Wall fell.

The starkest example: Two museums of German History. One in East Berlin. One in West Berlin. Two museums explaining and teaching the same history.

Yet not the same.

We viewed and read and listened.

And then we filtered that through our own observations, our own experiences, and our own perspectives.

We learned history.

We learned that how we see things and how others see things don’t always match.

We learned that’s how the world is.

We learned that’s how the world has always been.

We learned that’s probably how the world will always be.

We realized we had just experienced the freedom to travel to a place where people had different perspectives on history – a freedom that the people in that place did not have.

So, we learned to keep our eyes, ears and minds open and think for ourselves.

And we learned to be thankful for the freedom to do so.

I’m not sure why any school board anywhere would take “umbrage” at that.

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