“The truth of American history,” Martin continued to the news outlet. “And what happened to indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans and other people of color, shouldn’t be whitewashed.”
Here is her original tweet, which quickly went viral.
As a review of that history, by the way, Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act in 1830. From there, more than 100,000 Native folks were violently displaced, and more than 15,000 died. In particular, the Cherokee tribe referenced in the assignment lost thousands of lives on the Trail of Tears. People faced horrifying starvation, violence, exposure, and disease.
To be clear, this is mass violence and an example of ethnic cleansing. There’s long-term trauma and loss of culture and oral history, not to mention instances of things like child abuse and sexual abuse, too. Sure, fourth graders likely aren’t ready to hear all of that in those exact terms, but whitewashing history is an unacceptable alternative. Instead of “both sides” perspectives, kids deserve to be taught right from wrong, and when it comes to literal genocide, it’s very clearly a “wrong.”
It’s also worth remembering that kids in the classroom might have lost family through this very violence or might be living in the long-term effects of mass genocide and displacement; we know Native folks face a number of structural barriers when it comes to education, health care, being targeted by police, and economic mobility. This doesn’t happen by sheer luck or coincidence—it’s the result of structural and systemic racism, forced displacement, and targeted efforts to stamp out culture and—literally—life. History isn’t neutral and neither are the ways it impacts life for generations.
A spokesperson for the school emailed Insider with a statement, saying that the next question asked students to write from the perspective of a “Cherokee Indian” and explain why the Indian Removal Act was “harmful.” The email went on to say that while there is “often” a benefit to having students consider all sides of an issue, they did remove this assignment going forward because they feel there are “more appropriate” ways to teach the matter.
This goes back to the “both sides” argument. It is, truly, so harmful in general but especially to marginalized folks—no one deserves to sit in a classroom and feel their humanity be debated. No one should have to listen to their peers argue against their basic rights.
While I don’t recall having this particular assignment growing up, I do remember having assigned “debates” where we argued for and against things like LGBTQ+ equality, women having the right to vote, having English be a national language—and while people argued different sides, I don’t remember any of those teachers making it explicitly clear which side of the issue was “right,” and that’s a problem when kids walk away feeling that they really nailed it—same-sex couples don’t deserve marriage equality benefits, or so on.
Our youth deserve better.