By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Beginning with the Class of 2016, North Carolina public high school students will have to know a little more about U.S. history before they graduate according to new revisions to the state’s social studies standards. The requirements, approved Dec. 2, include two U.S. history courses: one focusing on the European Exploration of the New World through the Reconstruction Era and another covering the 19th century to contemporary time.
“Our students cannot become productive citizens without an understanding of the people and events that have shaped our nation and our world,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said in a press release announcing the two-course requirement. “The curriculum that will be taught in our classrooms reflects the importance of these lessons as well as a high level of input from teachers, historians, parents, students and the citizens of this state.”
Much of that input took the form of outrage early in 2010 when the first draft of standards recommendations from ACRE (the Accountability and Curriculum Reform Effort) proposed that teenagers study primarily the years from 1877 to present, omitting more than two centuries of the nation’s history from high school coursework. More than 7,000 e-mails flooded the Department of Public Instruction, and education officials quickly began rethinking their plan.
In addition to the two U.S. history courses in high school, main elements of the revised Social Studies standards include: U.S. History in fifth grade, N.C. and U.S. History in eighth grade, N.C. history in fourth grade, and world civilization and societies in sixth and seventh grades with a focus on geography and cultures. Woven throughout the K-12 standards will be an emphasis on financial literacy and environmental literacy, the standards show.
Leaders in the push to restore a more comprehensive study of U.S. history to public schools seem fairly satisfied with the new standards but still have some concerns.
“Most of us involved in suggesting alternatives are pretty happy,” wrote North Carolina State University history professor Holly Brewer, one of two administrators of the “History Did not Begin in 1877!” Facebook page set up in opposition to the initial proposal. “However there are still some concerns that they are vague; teachers should be given more guidance and materials to work with.”
She said there are also worries about whether the state will supply enough funds to hire educators since North Carolina lost about a third of its high school history teachers in 2003 with the shift to block scheduling and cutbacks on the amount of history being taught.
“We’re so glad to see the state reject the earlier proposal and instead break U.S. History into two required high school courses,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We’re also hopeful that folks across the state will stay tuned in to what’s happening in the public schools and truly become watchdogs over issues like this one.”
In a letter to the editor published Dec. 5 in the Greenville Reflector, Stokes resident Cynthia Wilkinson said the effort to cut early national history from the high school curriculum as “a magnificent example of some things that have gotten totally out of whack.”
“Why do we constantly find ourselves fighting to increase a thorough education on these basic ‘must-do’s’ where budget cuts loom, while seemingly paying far too much attention, time and funding on things outside of these important basic educational needs?” she wrote, thanking history educators at the K-12 and university levels, parents and citizens who fought the initial plan. “We would all do well to better respect and value our most precious of founding principles especially in light of present day struggles.”
The new standards can be viewed online at www.ncpublicschools.org/acre/standards/phase2/.
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