My Great Uncle Carl, the guy who lived in our house before we did, twice spent time in a state institution being treated with electroshock therapy.

That was over a half century ago, so there’s no way to tell what his diagnosis would be today. He may have been bipolar or he may have suffered from severe depression.

Why am I telling you this? Uncle Carl was a good man. An incredibly good man. He was a solid neighbor, helped his family with time and money, and as a Mason and Shriner, helped raise huge sums to build Children’s Hospitals all around the country, facilities that changed the lives of thousands, if not millions, of children.

Carl had some dark corners in his life, some sharp edges. He was sometimes sad and anxious and could cause the people around him to feel the same way.

But he was a good man, nonetheless, and to know the whole truth does no harm to him or his memory.

In a nutshell, that’s critical race theory.

Not really,  but it is the way public conversation is going.

I’ve been educating myself about critical race theory. It’s a term I don’t think I ever heard until recently, and I’m not the only one. A database search revealed it was mentioned in newspapers about sixty times a year throughout the past twenty years, but 6,000 times in the past six months - and almost always referenced incorrectly.

Critical race theory is a school of thought that’s been floating around academic circles since the 1970s, and it’s much too complicated to attempt an explanation in 600 words. Some of it is simply common sense, some, to me, seems a little bonkers, and everything in between. What appears to have most people riled up is the fear children will be taught that the United States is a bad country and always has been.

Here’s the deal. Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution did say that slaves will be counted as 3/5 of a person. We did lock up 120,000 Japanese Americans during WWII, just because of their appearance. Black citizens were largely excluded from participation in the Homestead Act and the GI Bill. Many housing developments required a signed contract specifying that you not sell your house to a Jew or a person of color.

These things truly happened, and I could go on and on and on. School children knowing these facts does them no harm and certainly shouldn’t damage their patriotism. Do you know one single teenager who isn’t aware that we live in a complicated world, who doesn’t know that people and institutions have flaws? In the end, isn’t it that knowledge that makes you a grownup?

My Uncle Carl fought his demons alone and didn’t get help until he’d slid a long way downhill. I like to think I learned from his examples, both good and bad. I do what I can to help my fellow man, and a couple of years ago when I found myself sliding downhill, I got help when I needed it. 

People can learn from the past; a country can learn from the past. But unless all the facts are out there, the good and the bad, it’s way too easy to make the same mistakes over and over.

That’s what I think.

Copyright Brent Olson 2021