Name an American leader you admire.
Name an American
leader you admire.


“George W. Bush”


Toby,


47, white, Republican


“Stacey Abrams”


Adanma,


43, Black, independent


“I couldn’t
think of anybody.”


Daphne,


44, Black, Democrat

“Name an American leader you admire.” That turned out to be one of the hardest prompts for people to respond to in any of the 11 Times Opinion focus groups held this year. There was a long pause before some of our 11 participants started raising their hands, and even then, several couldn’t come up with someone (or named a celebrity scientist and an Indian leader). As the focus group continued, both Democrats and Republicans struggled to point to a moment in American history they were proud of. Their frustrations with America today seemed to cloud their views of America over the sweep of time, of what the country has stood for or fought for in its best moments.

We convened this focus group of parents of high school students to discuss how they think American history and values should be taught in schools today, how issues like race and sexuality should be explored and how parts of our history — including the founding fathers, slavery, the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the gay rights movement — should or should not be discussed in-depth. Notably, all 11 Republicans, Democrats and independents believed that the good and the bad should be taught; one Republican said that schools should teach the pros and cons about Donald Trump’s presidency, regardless of anyone’s feelings about him.

At a time when many parents nationwide want a greater say in what’s taught in schools and when some Republican leaders are restricting access to books and discussions of gender and sexual identity, the focus group wrestled in particular with the idea of facts versus interpretation, with some wanting interpretation taught strictly at home. Others felt interpretations needed to be updated.


Adanma


43, Black, Georgia, independent


Lloyd


38, Black, Ohio, independent


Daphne


44, Black, Maryland, Democrat


Ashish


49, Asian, California, Republican


Toby


47, white, Texas, Republican


Howard


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat


April


39, white, Minnesota, Republican


Dennis


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat


Peter


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican


Jim


35, white, Louisiana, Republican


Jennifer


38, white, Wisconsin, independent


Moderator, Margie Omero

Name an American leader you admire — that’s a president, leader, politician, alive or dead, an American leader that you admire.


Peter,


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican

Neil deGrasse Tyson.


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

I respect and I admire George W. Bush. Probably get a lot of kickback on that, but that’s OK. I admire what he did and how he didn’t back down from anything.


Ashish,


49, Asian, California, Republican

I’ll say Gandhi.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

Martin Luther King Jr.


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

Stacey Abrams in Georgia. I’m a fan.


Moderator, Margie Omero

Is this a tough question for folks? What makes it a tough question?


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

In this day and age in our country, it’s really hard to think of someone that I admire that’s in a high position or a political leader. I have to rack my brain to think of someone who has integrity.


Daphne,


44, Black, Maryland, Democrat

I couldn’t think of anybody.


April,


39, white, Minnesota, Republican

I mean, depending on which news channel you tune in to, you’ll hear two completely different stories about somebody. So it’s really hard to know what’s actually going on. You don’t know what’s true.


Moderator, Margie Omero

So let me ask another question. Is there a moment in American history that you feel proud of?


Dennis,


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat

The Industrial Revolution. You have Ford. You have J.P. Morgan. You have Edison. These are the great creators that basically created the concept of the American dream. That’s like the Renaissance for America.


Peter,


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican

I think the period right after 9/11 was really gratifying, just because it didn’t matter what political party you were from. We all came together as a country. It just — the feeling of togetherness and being united instead of against each other.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

Unfortunately, it took a disaster and tragedy like that for us to come together. I thought we’d be building momentum, going forward, to bond as a society. And the wheels fell off the track.


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

I kind of agree, but I also disagree with the 9/11 example. I know people, my family included, who were discriminated against based on how they looked. I have a cousin who looks like she could be Middle Eastern. And she got a lot of negative things from the United States of America. And she’s a United States citizen. So not everybody was united.


Moderator, Margie Omero

OK. Now let me ask the flip side. Is there a moment in American history that you feel ashamed of?


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

Now.


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

Absolutely.


Moderator, Margie Omero

April, you’re nodding. Why right now?


April,


39, white, Minnesota, Republican

We just can’t agree on anything. We’ll find anything to fight over.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

My grandfather fought for this country. I love the armed forces. But sometimes, I’m embarrassed to be an American and would even think about leaving. It’s just so sad what’s going on in this country, the division and the gun violence and the lack of respect for law enforcement. The financial discrepancies of the rich getting richer, the middle class shrinking. I worry about my daughters all the time — what kind of world are we going to leave them?


Raise your hand if you agree with this.
“I believe American history should
be taught in high school in a neutral way
that has both the good and the bad.”


And raise your hand if you agree with this. “I believe American history should be taught in high school in a neutral way that has both the good and the bad.”


11 people raised their hands.



Adanma, 43, Black, independent



Lloyd, 38, Black, independent



Ashish, 49, Asian, Republican



Toby, 47, white, Republican



Howard, 45, white, Democrat



April, 39, white, Republican



Dennis, 54, Hispanic, Democrat



Peter, 44, Asian, Republican



Jim, 35, white, Republican



Jennifer, 38, white, independent


Raise your hand if you agree
with this. “I believe high school American
history should be taught in a positive
way that highlights America’s best qualities.”


Raise your hand if you agree with this. “I believe high school American history should be taught in a positive way that highlights America’s best qualities.”


0 people raised their hands.



Adanma, 43, Black, independent



Lloyd, 38, Black, independent



Daphne, 44, Black, Democrat



Ashish, 49, Asian, Republican



Toby, 47, white, Republican



Howard, 45, white, Democrat



April, 39, white, Republican



Dennis, 54, Hispanic, Democrat



Peter, 44, Asian, Republican



Jim, 35, white, Republican



Jennifer, 38, white, independent


Ashish,


49, Asian, California, Republican

It’s about awareness of the good and the bad. Right now, with Ukraine, I’m proud of the fact that we’re actually helping. I think there’s a lot of good. And there’s also a lot of bad. And I think we need to keep that in perspective.


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

It’s important to give all sides of the story. You can’t just tell people what you want, because then they don’t really have the full picture.


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

You hear that history is written by the winners. But if we’re going to be working toward a more equal and fair nation, then we should hear from other perspectives.


Moderator, Margie Omero

Everybody said, when we contacted you, that you have a high schooler in your life. What’s the best part of having a high schooler in your life?


Peter,


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican

Oh, gosh. Well, my daughter is the high schooler. So she’s on her second boyfriend, so that’s, like, the worst part.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

I wasn’t a terrible student, but I could have been a lot better. And I watch my older daughter, who’s the high school student. I watch how she’s grabbed school and really just loves it and is in honors classes, and she’s killing it. And the knowledge she brings home — I’m just in awe.


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

I just appreciate seeing my daughter around her friends. They’re accepting. They’re good examples of how we should be acting.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

When you think about your kids or your family, what are the values that are important that you raise your kids with or that you think schools should focus on?


Jim,


35, white, Louisiana, Republican

Pat your neighbor on the back, no matter their financial status. We all need to be classified as equal.


Jennifer,


38, white, Wisconsin, independent

Use common sense, be wise, understanding, accepting. Listen to others. Be respectful. Learn from others. Being different doesn’t mean being bad.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

That’s great. Daphne, how about you?


Daphne,


44, Black, Maryland, Democrat

I don’t even know if I would say American values, just general values to be a good person — treat people like you want to be treated. Don’t judge people before you even know who they are.


Moderator, Margie Omero

Rate your own high school education at teaching the American values we talked about earlier. On a scale of 0 to 10, how many would rate 10? [No one raises a hand.] How many people would rate their high school a 7, 8 or 9 at teaching American values? [Four people raise their hands.] A 4, 5 or 6? [Three people raise their hands.] Anybody rate their high school 0 to 3 at teaching them American values? [Four people raise their hands.]


Moderator, Margie Omero

OK, Toby, why 0 to 3?


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

I graduated from a private school, and the focus was more Christianity. There was very little emphasis on American history.


Moderator, Margie Omero

Lloyd, tell me about why 7, 8 or 9?


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

My high school emphasized hard work. I felt like that was an all-American value. That’s what I think all Americans should strive for. Everything is so much easier today. They don’t have to go to school as much. Their days are shorter. Their assignments are shorter. My school emphasized hard work and treating people well and being career oriented and having goals. Kids today are just being taught, “Do a little bit, and you’re going to get a certificate. You’re going to get a trophy like everyone else. Don’t try that hard, because it’s not necessary.”


Moderator, Margie Omero

How would you rate your kid’s high school and the way it’s teaching the American values that we were talking about? How many say they would give their kid’s high school a 10? [One person raises a hand.] How many people would give their kid’s high school 7, 8, 9? [Two people raise their hands.] How many people would give their kid’s high school 4, 5, 6, somewhere in the middle? [Four people raise their hands.] And how many people will give their kid’s high school 0 to 3? [Four people raise their hands.]


Moderator, Margie Omero

OK, a few more in the 0 to 3, I think, than the first one. Peter, tell me why you would say 0 to 3 for your kid’s high school.


Peter,


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican

My daughter is in band. I think that teaches the hard work aspect and the teamwork aspect. But in terms of values, I feel the value should be coming from me more than their school. The school is there to educate them, but I don’t believe it’s there to teach them values.


Moderator, Margie Omero

Howard, you rate your kid’s school at 10, a little bit higher than your own school experience. Tell me about that.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

Because they’re teaching them everything. They’re not discriminating against anything. My daughter just had a whole lesson about the Holocaust, which I think is very important for her generation to know about. Also learned a lot about slavery in this country. It’s a public school. It’s very diverse. It’s important for children to learn about everything that’s going on in the world.


Moderator, Margie Omero

How are you feeling about what is or isn’t being taught in your kid’s school? Are there things that are not being taught that should be? Are there things that are being taught that you think should not be?


Ashish,


49, Asian, California, Republican

When you have a conversation with a high schooler, they could have more knowledge of the world and what’s going on and what has happened in history — kind of a broader, 360-degree perspective — versus just America.


Dennis,


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat

Your children are on TikTok. They have more information and data in front of them from that than the school does. The school has to come up to date with that technology and, honestly, put that into play with their subjects.


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

The education system is outdated. It’s not modernized. I also feel like we’re teaching kids unnecessary information that’s not going to help them be successful.


Moderator, Margie Omero

Like what?


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

America is a business. So do the kids need to know what happened in the 1700s? Is that going to be applied to them getting a job that pays over $10 an hour? I feel like we need to teach them life skills, we need to teach them trades — things that are going to make them successful other than knowing what happened in the 1700s. Because you go to a job interview, no interviewer has ever asked you what happened in the 1700s.


Jennifer,


38, white, Wisconsin, independent

When we were in high school, whatever we were lacking then, we still struggle with today. They kind of did a crap job of teaching us how to be prepared in our finances. I feel like my generation, we struggle with debt a lot. We struggle with student loans. We struggle with credit cards. We just don’t know how to manage those kinds of things. And now, today, as adults, here we are going into bankruptcy and that kind of stuff. That’s huge for people in my generation now.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

I want to pivot and talk about some big moments in American history and how you think they should be taught to your kids in high school. So let’s start with the founding fathers of America, like Washington, Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton. Do you have any thoughts or concerns about how your kids get taught about the founding fathers?


Jim,


35, white, Louisiana, Republican

To be honest with you, the only thing that resonated with me is Washington. The other ones appear on bills and things of that nature.


Peter,


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican

My major concern is that we’re sometimes teaching more of an opinion of what those people were like instead of the facts. There’s a large focus about how the United States has done bad things. And we have. We were prolific in slavery. We supplanted the Native Americans. I think that those facts should be taught so that we know what we’ve done wrong and so that we can do better in the future. I’ve not personally seen this, but I’ve heard that there are individuals who focus solely on the United States being the major catalyst for slavery. They don’t talk about other countries having slavery legalized after the United States banned it. We weren’t the first to start it, and we weren’t the last to have it. I think it needs to be taught as a whole picture in a factual way and not in a perspective that it’s some opinion piece.


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

We were taught to hold the founding fathers at a high standard of morality and values. But I think it’s important that our kids know that our founding fathers weren’t perfect and that they made mistakes. A lot of them are really known to be racist or slave owners themselves. And I think it’s important that our kids know — not putting our forefathers down in the mud but not putting them on such a pedestal.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

Adanma, what about you? What would you want taught about those people that are —


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

As we progress, things are different. So I think that’s more important, to see the progress. We’re not trying to vilify. We’re just trying to clarify.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

The next part — someone mentioned this — the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans, including wars and massacres and the forced removal of them from their land.


April,


39, white, Minnesota, Republican

We absolutely should know about it. I wish we learned more about some of the different tribes, to honor them for what we did to them. I’m in a place where there’s three tribes around here. Couldn’t tell you where to find them or what they do. I know nothing about them.


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

I think we should teach factual things, less opinions. And we weren’t learning that when I was in school. When we were in school, they wanted us to believe that our leaders were perfect and didn’t do anything wrong. This generation, it’s OK to point out things that are wrong. I just think that we should watch what we teach if they are going to generate hate and animosity for something that’s so old and done with. I feel like we’re implanting hate in our children for something that happened hundreds of years ago.


Dennis,


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat

We’ve had a certain interpretation of American history for the last 150 years. Now we’re getting an interpretation that maybe that wasn’t the way it was. We are translating our history books to, yes, this is the correct way. And that’s what we’re dealing with — the truth. And sometimes that’s the most difficult part of this, facing that our history, as Americans, was not all that great.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

I want to ask you about the history of slavery in the country and how high schools talk about slavery in the country.


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

This one hits close to home because my kids have a white mother and I’m Black. They were never taught hate between any race. And then, when they went to school, I noticed that they felt a certain way about white people after going to school and learning about slavery. And they were seeing things in a different light, even though they had been going to their white grandfather’s house their whole life and their Black grandmother’s house their whole life. They saw things differently. It kind of shaped how they perceived even their own family, people that they knew and trusted and loved. And it made me question whether or not we should be teaching them such explicit slavery history lessons, so that we don’t walk around with animosity towards people who had nothing to do with it.


Daphne,


44, Black, Maryland, Democrat

My daughter just started high school, and I actually don’t think they talked about slavery at all. And so my son is in the 12th grade, they did kind of a general overview. But I don’t think their slavery knowledge actually came from school. I do think it’s important to be taught.


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

I feel like the facts should be put out there for all to see. And I think it’s parents’ job to deal with the feelings in our own homes. We were taught a sanitized version of history. It wasn’t fair. We come out not knowing a lot of things. We come out having to re-educate ourselves on what really happened. And then, when we talk to our children about it — because some of the curriculum has not been updated — we have to give them corrections. Just put the facts out. And it’s not to be taken personally. It’s just because this is what happened. I’ll teach my children that you’re not to hate white people because some white people did some things in the past.


Moderator, Margie Omero

How do you juggle facts versus interpretation?


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

I want my kids to know even the bad parts of our history. But with that said, I’m more concerned of how it’s delivered to them. And of course, that lies on the individual school districts or schools or teachers.


April,


39, white, Minnesota, Republican

There should be some of the facts and the dates and things, but I think there should be more of a focus on the people, like the individuals and telling their stories. Let the kids put themselves in that situation so they can develop empathy. And then maybe use all that information and relate it to stuff going on now. Because we’re not far from it in a lot of ways. I know some Chinese people had some issues after Covid because people were going after them. It’s still a very prevalent thing for the people. And so I think it should all just be taught. I mean, you can’t go after a whole group of people for something that happened.


Moderator, Margie Omero

The next topic is Japanese internment. What concerns, if any, do folks have about how this topic is taught in their children’s high school?


Peter,


44, Asian, Oklahoma, Republican

I think it was pretty well brushed over. I remember reading about it in, maybe, a couple of sentences when they talk about World War II history. I think it’s important that we inform them of what happened, so we can hopefully avoid similar mistakes in the future. But I also think of how young I must have been when I was learning about World War II history. And do I really want my kids, when they’re 7 or 8 years old, learning about how some Indians might have scalped people and cut their skin off? What’s the right age to teach certain parts of history so that their brain can analyze it and not develop hatred for one type of person or the other?


Moderator, Margie Omero

How many people think that this is a topic that should be covered more in their kid’s high school? [All 11 raise their hands.]


Ashish,


49, Asian, California, Republican

No, I think it should be covered more. It’s something I really didn’t learn about that much. I don’t think I even really did learn about it. So I think it’s definitely something that should be covered in more detail.


Moderator, Margie Omero

I’m going to move on to another topic: Richard Nixon’s presidency and Watergate.


Dennis,


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat

I don’t think it gets taught enough. My high school students, when they think of Watergate, they think it’s a new shower head or something. It’s a time in our history that shows the demise of a leader who was taking advantage of the American people, as well as the government itself. I’ve never heard the kids coming home and saying, “Oh, we learned about Watergate.”


Jennifer,


38, white, Wisconsin, independent

I think it should be covered more. I do believe in respecting authority, but we also need to think for ourselves and question authority. I think Watergate is a good example of how political leaders are very flawed, to say it politely. Children need to understand that we shouldn’t be putting them on pedestals.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

It’s also about teaching accountability. I try to teach my kids, if you’re the president of the United States or you’re just a normal individual going through everyday life, you got to be held accountable. If you do something wrong, you’re going to be held accountable. What happened Jan. 6 — we’re not going to hold these people accountable for storming our democracy? I mean, what’s that going to teach our youth? That they can go and do whatever the heck they want and get away with it?


Dennis,


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat

The whole thing is, are kids really interested in this? They’re more interested in TikTok than in history.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

That’s anything, Dennis, right? I mean, let’s be honest. I mean, I have a younger daughter. She can wear an Apple Watch to school. I always say to her, I’m like, “So you’re telling me that you’re not getting texts in the middle of a test? You’re not scrolling through your phone?” They allow it. Social media and technology have just destroyed the youth. That’s a whole different topic.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

Another part of history: L.G.B.T.Q. history in America.


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

It’d be nice if they did teach it, but it’s just really scary to try and touch those fences. I mean, I would be petrified to even elaborate.


Lloyd,


38, Black, Ohio, independent

My main issue with it is how young do they want to start teaching it? Because I went to a private school my whole life, Christian private school. My kids go to regular public school. And my daughter knows more about L.G.B.T.Q. at 13 than I probably know today. And it’s like, how young is too young to teach children things that — I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m not saying that they’re immoral — but just things that are not age appropriate? I feel like children need to be children as long as they can be children. And I just want to make sure that they’re not being bombarded with sexual information that they’re not at a mature enough age to process correctly.


Adanma,


43, Black, Georgia, independent

I think that there are ways to teach that history — you don’t have to get explicit. But it’s American history. And it’s part of life. Instead of trying to suppress the fact that there are L.G.B.T.Q. members of society, we should show what they’ve been through. We can tell the struggle without getting explicit. It’s not going to turn anyone gay.


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

Sorry, no. I think, with any social events in history or anything social that’s taught, social history that’s taught, there could be a potential negative impact, no matter what it is, because of how it’s delivered to our kids or how it’s taught.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

What do you think the negative impact could be?


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

That it’s given in a way that’s more of an opinion or a feeling of the educator, maybe not sticking so much to the facts or the history of it. It doesn’t mean that that teacher’s right or wrong. It just means it could be taken in a way that’s not the best.


April,


39, white, Minnesota, Republican

The only downside I would see — which I don’t think should deter from teaching it — would be, you’re teaching it to kids, some of whom are struggling with their own identity issues, and are they gay? Are they not? Do I feel like a boy? Do I feel like a girl? Those are all very real things that are going on. And so if they’re teaching this in class and then you have their peers making comments, then that would make them maybe close off more. I think it should just be taught with a certain amount of grace. And if any of that happens, there should be consequences for it, to teach that that’s not OK and you can’t do that.


Moderator, Patrick Healy

Last topic: the Trump era and how President Trump is regarded.


Daphne,


44, Black, Maryland, Democrat

For my son’s school, a lot of the parents at his school were supporters of Trump. And so he would come home with that perspective. Whereas my daughter, I don’t think they really talked about it a lot. But I don’t really have a perspective as far as how it’s taught.


Toby,


47, white, Texas, Republican

As a human being, I wish we could erase that, everything Trump, but in reality, it’s a part of American history. So whatever my personal feelings are, I think it’s important that it is taught, the good and the bad. But I think, with everything else, it needs to be delivered in a way that’s beneficial for our kids so it gives them more understanding.


Moderator, Margie Omero

OK. Final question. Imagine it’s 30 years from now and you’re having a conversation with that kid who’s now an older person, an adult. What would you want to ask them?


April,


39, white, Minnesota, Republican

What do you wish I would have done differently?


Howard,


45, white, Pennsylvania, Democrat

Did my wife and I do a good job? Are you happy with some of the skills or life lessons we instilled in you? What could we have done better? What did you pass on to your children? And what did we do that you decided not to instill in your children?


Daphne,


44, Black, Maryland, Democrat

Some of the things that we try to teach, they might not understand. Has it come around full circle? Do you understand now?


Dennis,


54, Hispanic, New York, Democrat

I would go to my daughter — both of them — and I would say, “Have the decisions that you made throughout your life made you happy?”




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