Contact the North Carolina Department of Instruction
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — A proposal to teach high schoolers an abbreviated version of U.S. history — one that starts in 1877 — has phones ringing off the hook and e-mail inboxes overflowing at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“We are glad to see people urging our education officials to rework this misguided proposal,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “An even greater benefit of the uproar will be if those folks continue to monitor suggested curricula in each subject and speak out with constructive criticism whenever it misses the mark.”
The proposed “essential standards” for history would have sixth-graders focusing on World Civilizations (Beginning of Human Society to the mid 1700s); seventh-graders studying State, Nation and World (1600s to early 1970s) and eighth-graders concentrating on The Global Community (1950s to present).
High school courses would include Civics and Economics, Global Studies and the controversial U.S. History course that would begin just after Reconstruction and go to present day event to provide students “a framework for studying political, social, economic and cultural issues, and for analyzing the impact that these issues have had on American society.”
Critics of the plan point out that it’s impossible for students to have a proper framework without understanding the nation’s founding and all that transpired between pre-colonial times and 1877. State education officials say the intent is not to shortchange U.S. history, but to shift some of it to earlier grades so that 11th graders would have time to take an in-depth look at more recent events.
“Fifth-graders would focus on just U.S. history, which is now combined with studies of Canada and Mexico,” said Linda Fuller, a DPI public information officer who described the plan as a “repackaging of U.S. history.”
But Dr. Holly Brewer, who teaches Early American History at N.C. State University, said claims that students will “get the basics” in middle school or fifth grade are simply not true.
“They have to deal with issues in high school when they can talk about things in a complex manner,” she told the Raleigh News and Observer.
Brewer is not new to the debate about high school curriculum. In fact, she became concerned nearly six years ago when she was teaching a refresher course to high school teachers who told her about state plans to eliminate curriculum about colonial and revolutionary America.
“I thought someone would see the light,” she told members of the John Locke Foundation during a 2008 speech on “Erasing Colonial and Revolutionary History from North Carolina High Schools.” Even then, she said DPI was already giving short shrift to the Constitution and not covering our nation’s history prior to George Washington’s presidency.
The latest push to drop another hundred years out of the 11th grade class has her writing DPI, circulating a statewide petition and speaking out on a Facebook page, “History did not begin in 1877!”
“I don’t know of any other states who do this,” Brewer had told her audience in reference to simply skipping over the nation’s founding and picking up midstream. “We are one of the 13 original states … how ironic.”
Nina Gunther Kilbride, a Raleigh attorney, pointed out that the push for comprehensive history education isn’t a partisan issue.
“I think this issue unites both ends of the political spectrum. No one wants our schools turning out know-nothings,” she wrote on the Facebook page she administers, elaborating on an online petition directed to DPI.
“The facts of American History before 1877 include major episodes that affected millions and continue to shape American life, including the more current issues addressed by the proposed curriculum,” she wrote on the petition. “Some pre-1877 issues are sporadically including in earlier years (such as in elementary school) but this is no substitute for teaching the material comprehensively in high school.”
Fuller said the proposed history curriculum changes, which came from the Accountability and Curriculum Reform Effort — a wholesale push to change the scope of the Standard Course of Study, assessments and testing — were in response to concerns from teachers, already pressed by block scheduling, who said they did not have time to present the entire span of our nation’s past, much less help students delve deeper into current issues. She could not explain how seventh-grade teachers and students could be expected to cover 370 years of history with a “state, nation and world” perspective as the proposal calls for.
However, Fuller did emphasize the fact that the proposal is just a first draft and that many revisions are expected.
“This story has generated a lot of passion. It is a hot-button issue,” she said. “It is clear that the people of this state want U.S. History to be taught and they want their kids to understand it.”
Take Christian Action: To view the proposed “essential standards” for public schools, go to www.ncpublicschools.org/acre/standards/phase2/
You can share your feedback on history or other subjects with state education officials by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org by February 15.
Fuller said the Board of Education recently approved science standards, but only after receiving 15,000 comments and four drafts of the plan.