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Critical Race Theory: How Much Should You Tell 13-Year-Olds about U.S. Crimes -- & Ukraine?

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Last Thursday, my granddaughter, Eva, left her home in Westport CT - one of our country's most affluent towns - for a service project in impoverished Panama. The latter has recently returned to the news because of protests and demonstrations there against austerity policies that Panamanians see as enforced by the United States.

For me, Eva's project has raised questions connected with the current national debate about Critical Race Theory (CRT). It made me wonder about how much raw history to share with a 13-year-old and about straight talk with her about U.S. crimes committed in places like Panama compared with Russia's in Ukraine.

Straight talk, I decided is good.

Let me elaborate by (1) describing Eva's project, (2) sharing the letter I wrote to her about Panama, and (3) more briefly connecting Panama with the war in Ukraine.

Panama & CRT

Eva's project is called "Amigos," and bills itself as following:

"Discover AMIGOS is a two-week group volunteer experience for ages 13 and 14. Travel to Panama with a group of students to learn about environmental issues like conservation preserving endangered wildlife! From exploring beaches for turtle eggs to hiking through nature reserves, you'll earn 30 service hours. See how local youth are getting involved with issues they care about. Enjoy Panama's unspoiled Pacific beaches and immerse yourself in the tropical forests of the Azuero Peninsula."

In other words, despite Panama's current problems, the trip promises to be completely (or at best rather) ahistorical and almost certainly apolitical.

And why not? After all, why spoil kids' beach vacation saving turtles?

And besides, opponents of Critical Race Theory would say that early teenagers like Eva are too young to face the "alleged" harsh realities of U.S. history. They should learn the patriotic "official story" first.

I disagree.

So, despite anticipated objections of CRT opponents, I've decided to share as much as I know about Panama and its implications for "Americans."

That's because I care too much about my granddaughter to let her be satisfied with depoliticized ahistoricity. After all, Eva's already very curious about politics and history. She's read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous People's History of the United States. She also watches Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" every day. And we discuss all of that on long walks together (as shown here in some verses I wrote for Eva on her 13th birthday). With all that in mind, I've thrown caution to the wind and have written Eva the following letter describing Panama's importance and exploitation by the United States.

What the United States has done there represents but the smallest microcosm of its homicidal policies throughout its backyard and more generally in Global South countries since long before the Second Intercapitalist War (1939-'45). As we'll see, its crimes there causing millions of deaths reduce Russia's policies in Ukraine to very small potatoes.

I believe that Eva's not too young to face any of that. So, here's what I wrote.

Letter to My Granddaughter

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)

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