Mass. high school students asked to list ‘positive effects of imperialism’ in study of Africa

Confusing critical thinking for indoctrination, a Twitter activist had a meltdown after learning her younger sister was given an assignment on Imperialism that she said was “revisionism,” which appears to be “a key objective” of the American education system.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) is a public high school in Cambridge, MA, blocks away from Harvard University. With a social expectation that their students acquire the ability to recognize and respect the “physical, social, linguistic, and cultural differences of others,” Calla Walsh was appalled when her sister Cece showed her a recent history assignment.

A worksheet provided to the freshman history class expected students to fill in two columns after reading a section from their textbook on the colonization of Africa, according to the Boston Globe. Students were tasked with identifying the positive and negative effects of Imperialism.

Walsh posted a photo of the assignment on social media and unloaded at length about her opinions on the subject.

“[F]orcing students into the mental exercise of justifying/rationalizing genocide because of its supposed ‘positive effects’ itself perpetuates genocide and indoctrinates them into supporting an imperial war machine,” she wrote.

She added that CRLS is located in “one of the most ‘progressive’ cities in the US” and stated, “it’s not just Republicans banning [Critical Race Theory] that are revising history – racist, imperialist revisionism it is a key objective of the *entire* US education system.”

Walsh’s sister reportedly raised concerns to her history teacher after the siblings had had a discussion on the assignment. The teacher was said to have agreed with the concerns and planned to provide alternative perspectives to the state curriculum that he was mandated to teach.

As the pair had been able to discuss the worksheet prior to the younger Walsh voicing her concerns, it is unclear how much influence the older sister had on the answers provided. Negative effects listed included “white supremacy,” “globalization of capitalism” and “climate change.”

In lieu of positives, the student wrote, “I think that asking us to identify positives of imperialism, something that killed thousands and contributed to slavery, is extremely undermining and disrespectful to people whose ancestors were murdered because of colonization.”

Sujata Wycoff, a spokeswoman for CRLS, stated that the textbook predates the 2018 standard, “but is aligned with the state’s standards and is part of a broad range of materials students receive, including from Facing History and Ourselves, a group that focuses on genocides.”

One comment objected to the standards entirely.

Wycoff further noted, “The activity was a note taking exercise as students read through a chapter in the Age of Imperialism unit designed to spark a conversation and to teach students how to critically think about how imperialism is written about. It is important that our students learn about varying perspectives so that they can form their own opinions.”

The school’s statement clarifies the exact point that Walsh missed in her Twitter tirade. Whether influenced by her older sister or not, the younger Walsh did not provide positives because in her estimation there were none. This is not the most critically thought-out response, but it was voluntary and it facilitated the purpose of studying history, which is to learn from mistakes in the past.

Others pointed out that this exercise can readily be completed without endorsing a position one vehemently opposes.

Still, according to the Globe, the takeaway for the younger Walsh ended up being, “It was very biased and it didn’t really give us the truth. The positive effects are often only positive for the oppressors … Teachers need to be aware of what texts they’re choosing to present to students.”


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Kevin Haggerty


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