When I think about Presidents Day, I’m reminded of what I was taught in school about George Washington, our original commander in chief. He crossed the icy Delaware to fight for our nascent nation’s independence from the British and bravely risked his life for freedom, cementing his status as the so-called ”Father of His Country.” My classmates and I even took a fifth-grade field trip to his immaculate Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.

What we didn’t really discuss, though, were the approximately 300 enslaved humans who kept that immaculate estate going and thriving. We didn’t hear about Martha Washington’s personal maid, Ona Judge, an enslaved biracial woman who emancipated herself and whom the Washington family relentlessly pursued for years to bring her back to bondage.

Stories about the first president’s bravery and brutality are simultaneously true, and I want to know about both.

Forty years after my visit, Mount Vernon’s website tells the stories from Judge and others that present a full picture of the contradictory nature of the country’s most famous freedom fighter, who, like 11 of his presidential cohort, owned people. But in school, we mostly got the heroic headlines with the troubling nuances in the margins, if anywhere.

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So on this Presidents Day, I can’t help but wonder how future children will be taught about modern presidencies. What will my son learn about President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election, leading to the attempted overthrow of the government? What about President Bill Clinton’s infidelities? How will we discuss the racism faced by our first Black president, Barack Obama, even as we take pride in his historic election?

I consulted two people who know a lot about making the events of the past clearer, more relevant and truthful to young people: Allen Rosskopf, my ninth-grade English teacher and newspaper adviser at Baltimore City College High School, and Carol Geidt, who taught U.S. history, world history and American government at Baltimore School for the Arts from the mid-1980s to 2010.

Both said that imparting the truths of the past in a meaningful way that connects with students’ future consciousness is tricky. “Teaching in general is the attempt to juggle while running,” Rosskopf said, in that you’re constantly balancing facts with currently accepted proclivities. He said his own education ignored the specifics of Reconstruction, “focusing on the positives, and then skipped right to the 1950s.”

Geidt was raised in Baltimore’s segregated schools in the 1950s and ′60s, but by the ′80s found herself teaching a diverse group of students in that same city. She understood immediately that she had to tweak the basics of the lesson outlines to find relevance. “Reading the grievances in the Declaration of Independence, you don’t have to do that much turning of words to make it not just the grievances of colonists versus the mother country, but slaves against their masters,” she said. “We understand Jefferson can write these ideals that have been imbued in his mind but not in his practice.”

When Geidt was in the classroom, history was “taught from the top down,” including the presidents and their policies. She tried to make things more relevant by saying, “‘Here is what the policy is, but how did it impact the people?’”

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Rosskopf was not a history teacher per se, but each freshman English class at City at the time was themed around books and stories set in the 1920s, including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” I learned a list of historic terms that corresponded with plots from the literature like “flappers” and “The Teapot Dome.”

The latter was an early presidential scandal involving President Warren G. Harding’s administration leasing some of the U.S. Navy’s oil reserve to private companies at discount prices. I remember making the correlation between that and Watergate, which had happened just 13 years earlier and about which little “has been taught about it then or since,” Rosskopf told me last week. “Ford pardoned Nixon, and then that was the end of Watergate. He became OK; Kissinger became OK.”

Rosskopf, who remains a dear friend nearly 40 years later, made the confusing contemporary moment of Watergate relevant by reminding me that our government has never been pristine, and our curricula have never been great about including everyone. He noticed, for instance, while teaching mostly Black kids in Baltimore, that the 1920s terms on the list he was supposed to teach didn’t include the Tulsa race massacre, in which a prospering Black business district was obliterated by the government. We are only aware now of what we didn’t learn.

“A lot of times I read criticism online, which I never feel is directed at me but that I know is truthful, like ‘Why didn’t we learn this? Why didn’t we ever learn that?’ ” Geidt said.

It’s not that previous administrations were scandal-free, of course. There just wasn’t real-time coverage of their foibles on social media and 24/7 news coverage, which allowed presidencies to be painted in broad basic strokes. It can be overwhelming. Geidt said it’s important to teach things like slavery and racism in an age-appropriate manner, but that what’s appropriate changes.

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“You don’t have to redo the trauma,” she said. “When I taught ninth-graders, I watched their eyes and knew when to ease up, but the juniors and seniors needed to hear it, because it might be the only time they were going to hear it.”

More recently, there seems to be more of an attempt to fill in some of the margins. The current Kids National Geographic entry on Clinton leads with his economic successes but also covers his impeachment and “inappropriate relationship” with intern Monica Lewinsky. It doesn’t get explicit, but invites students to seek out more, which is easier in this time of technology.

Rosskopf, who retired decades ago, said if he were still teaching, he would relate the current moment to the historical “rise of authoritarianism, and how racism intersected with national populism, and how all these things became a single force. If Trump wins, it’s gonna be a hagiographic, and if he loses, it’ll be the truth of our sins.”

“The true question is, after the next election, what will be allowed to be taught,” Geidt said. “If I were in Florida now, I couldn’t teach most of what I taught. You have to be careful. There’s a difference between that degree of carefulness and being balanced.”

I agree with them. As a parent, a chronicler of the current moment and a student of history, I believe my responsibility is to celebrate the triumphs of the men who built this country while never forgetting the evils they excused or even participated in to bring us here — and how those sins persist.

It’s not revisionist if the history we were taught before was not complete.

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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