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Cole Op-Ed in The Oklahoman: Backdoor efforts to rewrite American story threaten our republic

July 9, 2021
Weekly Columns

The following op-ed written by Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) was originally published online and in the print edition of The Oklahoman.

Independence Day importantly symbolizes another year that our hard-won freedoms, distinct system of government and unique institutions have endured the test of time. For just as liberty was secured at great cost nearly 250 years ago, it has required generations of Americans to defend, protect, preserve and expand.

Alarmingly, there are increasingly apparent threats to preserving our great republic, including a severe declining knowledge of U.S. history and civics and fading American pride of our youngest citizens. Both are key reasons why I sponsored the bipartisan and bicameral Civics Secures Democracy Act earlier this year. As introduced, this legislation would strengthen and expand access to civics and history education through federal grants to support teaching of these subjects without mandating a national curriculum.

Unfortunately, some academic activists are on a mission to erase and reframe the narrative of America’s founding and our shared journey. Due to the spread of their erroneous and controversial ideologies already creeping into classrooms, this legislation has been portrayed as a tool to push propaganda in schools.

Concerns have multiplied since the Biden administration published guidance for the existing American History and Civics Education grant programs, citing the widely disputed 1619 Project that elevates critical race theory. Although I have actively sought answers from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, no meaningful clarity has been provided thus far. Absent such, this speaks volumes about the administration’s desired direction for civics education and the importance of political narrative over historical fact.

As a former history professor and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, I recognize the value of diverse perspectives. But I deeply oppose any backdoor efforts to rewrite the American story.

To be clear, I personally understand the importance of race and recognizing discrimination throughout history. My great-great grandfather was forcibly removed from Mississippi, where his family had lived for 500 years. At age 14, he was marched 800 miles to Indian Territory. Our family lost everything and then lost everything again when Oklahoma was opened to white settlement and tribal governments were all but dissolved.

However, I also know that there is more to the American story than our imperfections. America has afforded my family opportunities that exist nowhere else on Earth. I see it in the legacy of my great aunt Te Ata, a world renown Chickasaw storyteller who delivered the first state entertainment in the FDR White House and performed before the King and Queen of England and the Roosevelts at Hyde Park. I see it in my Chickasaw uncle, and namesake, who survived the Bataan Death March and Japanese prison camps and was admired by his fellow POWs for his toughness as “an Indian warrior.” I see it in my mom, Helen Cole, who was the first Native American woman elected to the Oklahoma state Senate. And I see it in myself.

Throughout my lifetime, I have also watched our country become continuously better — including during the Civil Rights Movement — because our founding ideals were clear. Although the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written when slavery existed, the practice was ultimately proven incompatible with the belief in “liberty and justice for all.” Indeed, our greatest triumphs are those chapters that expanded the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

As former President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” For America to endure, future generations must know to cherish our precious freedoms, celebrate our unique institutions and recognize adversity overcome.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, represents Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District.