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Posted under: Black History News

How Where You Went To School Affects What You Think About The Civil War

Curriculums about the historical event may vary from state-to-state and even district-to-district.

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The Civil War is a huge part of American history, and is taught at every school across the country.

However, it turns out that the manner in which this historical event is being taught may not be consistent across state lines.

According to the Associated Press, instruction about the Civil War differs greatly from state to state. In some cases, the AP found that teaching differs within a state from district to district.

While certain schools focus on the economic and cultural differences between the North and the South, others glorify Confederate commanders and their abilities on the battlefield.

"You don't know, as you speak to folks around the country, what kind of assumptions they have about things like the Civil War," Temple University sociology professor Dustin Kidd said.

Students usually begin learning about the Civil War somewhere between fifth and eighth grade. However, the differing curriculums surrounding the civil war have been highlighted following both Charlottesville and the recent Confederate symbol backlash.

Kidd is a Charlottesville native who says that he was taught that “folks from the North” believed in a “misconception” that slavery started the war. He says he was instead taught that the Civil War's true cause was tension left over from troubles between English colonists that was brewing way before the 1861 rebellion.

He didn’t begin to question this teaching until he was in college.

"I recall my father coming home when I was about eight or nine with two Civil War caps, one's gray and one's blue. And I wanted the gray one," said Southern Methodist University history professor Edward Countryman. "The belief, strongly, that the Civil War had been about anything but slavery was very, very powerful."

In 2011, the Pew Research Center found that only 38 percent of Americans believe that the Civil War’s main cause was slavery, while 48 percent believe it was due to states’ rights. 9 percent say they both factors equally contributed to the war.

Race and state divided people. 48 percent of whites said they believed the states’ right issues caused the war; only 39 percent of black respondents believed the same.

49 percent of self-described Southern whites said the was was fought over state's rights; 48 percent of whites who didn’t consider themselves Southern chose the same theory.

The president of the Texas NAACP, Gary Bledsoe, said finding "kinder" ways to describe the war's origins is done to conceal racism.

"States' rights is about the whole idea of permitting slavery and allowing the South to do what they do, or, after slavery, to allow the South to engage in Jim Crow," Bledsoe said. "You can't sanitize history and have history report that master and slave were out there singing 'Kumbaya' in the fields."

In Texas, students learning about the war are taught that the Civil War had three main causes: “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery.”

Texan eighth graders are asked to compare Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address with Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address. The state's curriculum lists Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and abolitionist Frederick Douglass as examples of "the importance of effective leadership in a constitutional republic."

In Virginia, students are asked to work on "describing the cultural, economic and constitutional issues that divided the nation" and "explaining how the issues of states' rights and slavery increased sectional tensions."

U.S. history courses in Massachusetts, however, directly focus on slavery, asking students to "describe the rapid growth of slavery in the South after 1800 and analyze slave life and resistance on plantations and farms across the South."

There are certainly a wide variety of methods being used across the country, leaving what Thomas B. Forham Institute (a conservative nonprofit think tank) president emeritus Chester Finn calls, “a real jigsaw puzzle.”

"If the state curriculum calls it the 'War of Northern Aggression' and says states' rights were dominated by the Yankee army crushing the good people of the South, and slighting the whole slavery issue," noted Finn, "You can influence what a million kids take away."
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