Neither Free Nor Brave


Independence Day and the Loss of America’s Democratic Public Schools (
Canada Day muted as country reckons with treatment of indigenous, other minorities (Reuters via

One of the reasons Mom kept using her VCR through her final years was so she could keep watching her recordings of the Independence Day shows put on by PBS and A&E every year. She didn’t care much for the holiday itself, but she always loved the music, especially the orchestral pieces that played during the show-ending fireworks displays. Even as those tapes kept getting worn down from repeated playings, every few months I could count on hearing some of those shows down in the living room while I went about my business in the house.

When I moved to Wisconsin, I managed to get an apartment with a near-perfect view of my town’s annual fireworks display, about a mile and a quarter away. The show is always about a week before Independence Day (presumably because the fireworks technicians command much higher salaries closer to the holiday), and the timing still strikes me as weird, but when the show starts, I can’t help but remember Mom watching those televised displays over and over again, as often in January as in July, and so I’ve come to look forward to them every summer here, although for reasons much more different than those of the show’s organizers and other watchers.

As I’ve read more and more news stories these past few weeks about the discoveries of mass graves at Canadian residential schools (and make no mistake, it’s only a matter of time before we find them at the sites of former “Indian schools” here in America), and as the deluge of stories about the fights over the teaching of African-American history in American schools continues, I’ve been thinking more about Independence Day than I ever have before. I’ve never gone to an Independence Day celebration by choice — the only parties I remember going to are ones that my parents dragged me to, even though they didn’t care about the holiday any more than I did — and unless I’m teaching a summer course that I have to postpone because of the holiday, I usually don’t pay the holiday much mind. Most years, it just doesn’t register on my radar.

With so many Canadians pushing to quell the usual celebrations of Canada Day this year in the wake of recent news there, though, it’s been hard not to think about the role of Independence Day celebrations here in America. On top of dealing with the current fighting over the structure and content of America’s schools, my research into my next book has really driven home the extent to which our country’s schools have always been tilted against African-Americans, and how those conditions have been made worse (and quite deliberately so) over the past few decades. We should always be debating what gets taught in our schools, and how it gets taught, but with the way our politics have been trending, it’s hard to shake the feeling that voices in support of the actual needs of minorities in America (not just people of color) have been systematically pushed out of those debates.

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