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Learn More, Talk Less

Now that everyone has the technical ability to share their thoughts with the entire world, we’re all experiencing a lot of subjective thinking with very little or no data to back it up.

Maybe people should put a little time into learning about something before they begin presenting it as doctrine and suggesting solutions based on their erroneous thoughts? I’m sure Carmen Best would agree.

Yes, it’s finally good to hear the words “Institutional Racism” everywhere now, but as people start throwing out knee jerk ideas on how to dismantle it, I really need to learn more before I chime into solution-based conversations with value.

Because not only do we need well thought out, strategic solutions, we also have to reconcile that almost half the populous live in an alternate, cult-like reality only hearing the dogma spewed from their unaccountable leaders, intent only in controlling followers through erroneous, emotionally charged indoctrination.

So I began asking myself more questions. I questioned how we all went through decades on this planet believing things we’re a certain way, only to have everything turned upside down. Which took me back 35 years to when I began graduate work in Western American History.

The first pre-requisite class I enrolled in was American Historiography - the study of changing historical interpretations, shifting emphasis, and different methodologies. It looks deeply into how two historians using the same facts may come to with two different interpretations of a historical event. Like how contemporary British and American views of the battles of Lexington and Concord would likely differ because the two sides held different assumptions. And how subsequent historians with different assumptions built on a past historian’s work go on to develop their own subjective take on events… and so on and so on.

Historiography looks deeply into the historian - what was their background, who taught them, and who taught who taught them? What schools of thought influenced them and how much did the events of the time influence their work?

Twentieth century American History actually as four academic schools of thought: Progressive Historiography (1900-1940’s), Consensus (Traditional) Historiography (1940’s-1960’s), New Left Historiography (1960’s-1980’s) and Neo-Conservative Historiography (1980’s-Present). And I had to learn about each school of thought and determine which one influenced every author I read.

Back then, I wrote a paper on the Custer Battle through the lens of Historiography. I read twenty-plus books published from just six months after the battle, from an author who knew someone who died on the Little Bighorn, and how their perspectives differed from a Custer book written during Roaring Twenties mentality, or the paranoia authors felt during the backyard bomb shelter building days of the the 1950’s… It was like reading twenty-plus books on the same... but completely different battle.

And then I spent a year living and teaching in Lame Deer, Montana, on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, adjacent to the Custer Battlefield National Monument and Custer Archives. I asked the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of my fifth graders to join us on a field trip to the battlefield, where two of the great-grandparents had actually been there as infants. They shared the firsthand stories their parents and elders told them throughout their childhoods.

What I learned that day was never mentioned in the history books.

But there is hope. Finally, some of today’s authors are writing new interpretations of history researched from all sides: “These Truths, a History of the United States,” by Jill Lepore and “Lies my teacher told me,” by James W. Loewen, to name a couple.

And although Isabel Wilkerson’s brilliant “Caste” speaks more to, “Caste is the bones, race the skin,” and very seldom mentions the word “Racism,” because she’s focused on the root cause, Caste. She validates utilizing a historiographic lens saying that, Race, after all, is “fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition.”

Look, I don’t have the answers - I’m just hoping that the more all of us engage in educated discourse, the greater the chance a successful strategy will manifest. And education is the path forward. But how you educate yourself matters.

The cult-like followers of the current autocratic wannabes stay confined to their co-dependent social media circles, pouring gasoline on each others’ fires. But are the rest of us all that different when it comes to how many new things we learn and questioning where we learn them from?

So what can we do? We can promote conversations. We can ask ourselves, “How do we inspire lifelong learning," and “How do we ensure that our learning is objective and comes from objective sources?”

But this takes effort. We have to read, think and converse. I literally have to schedule reading time on my daily calendar and treat it like a meeting or it won’t happen. If that sounds un-doable to you, because you’re so stretched as is, I get it. Again, it’s going to take extra effort and ongoing work if we are to become more knowledgeable and urge others to do so.

And as mentioned in my opening above, we can stop issuing solutions that weren’t properly thought out. We can stop taking stabs at how to defund the police before we even know what that means. We can take the time to brainstorm what a more “ideal state” would look like, and work to develop a deliberate strategy before we throw ourselves all in, on one side or the other.

We need to stop thinking we have the answers before we have really done the work.

I know there is a sense of urgency around keeping the momentum moving toward substantive change - I feel it too. I just want us to avoid slapping on bandaids without even knowing the next step.

We’re talking about changing a centuries old system that subjugates people of color.

We can’t even begin to destroy white supremacy without a well thought-out plan, which begins with opening a book and then sharing what you’ve learned.

What do you think about my new bumper sticker idea? “Stream less, read more.” I'm sure it will be just as popular as... uh... well... okay, it's a stretch in today's world. But it doesn't have to stay that way. We can change that.