Thursday, February 4, 2010

Schools: U.S. History Out, Environment In

February 3, 2010 - 1:34 PM | by: Lee Ross

Change often leads to controversy and that is certainly the case in North Carolina where an effort to revamp the state's education system has some people outraged that high school students will not learn enough American history.

The formula for teaching American history has been pretty simple. Start at the beginning and go forward. But a new proposal under review in North Carolina threatens to disrupt that standard teaching philosophy.

"If our students don't know what happened in world history, and if they don't know what happened in U.S. history from George Washington's presidency all the way up through the Civil War, then they will not be able to grasp the big picture," said Mike Belter, a Social Studies teacher in North Carolina.

The state's on-going curriculum review hits all subjects but it's the proposed changes for high school students learning social studies that have provoked fears. Under the new guidelines, students will graduate without learning enough about world history and key parts of American history including Abraham Lincoln, westward expansion or much else that happened before 1877 when Reconstruction ended, critics say.

"We are certainly not trying to go away from American history. What we are trying to do is figure out a way to teach it where students are connected to it. Where they see the big idea. Where they are able to make connections and draw relationships between parts of our history and the present day so the students who see it as relevant," said Rebecca Garland of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Right now, high school students learn world history in the ninth grade, civics and economics in the tenth and the entirety of U.S. history in the eleventh grade. Under the proposed change, all ninth graders wouldn't study world history. Instead, they''ll have to take a course called Global Studies focusing on the modern issues like the environment.

Tenth graders will still get Civics and Economics, while the junior year U.S. history class would start in 1877. State officials say events prior to that year will be taught before high school and also incorporated into the sophomore year Civics class.

Education officials acknowledge this is a big change but believe it will allow them to connect with a standard of teaching based on a new national initiative called called Common Core which emphasizes standards to help prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers and to be prepared to compete globally.

"The whole notion of the common core is fewer, clearer and more in depth standards. So that our students remember what's important," Garland said.

" I'm all for a global outlook but it should not be at the expense of American history and learning about American institutions and ideas. And unfortunately this curriculum does just that," said Terry Stoops, an Education Expert and member of the John Locke Foundation.

North Carolina officials are quick to emphasize that the proposal is just that--a proposal. And they are encouraging feedback from teachers and the public about the plan.

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