What Should Schools Teach, and Who Should Decide on the Curriculum?

Senate Resolution 80, sponsored by Republican William Ligon of Brunswick, was read in the Senate for the first time Wednesday morning. The resolution is a response to changes made in the College Board prescribed curriculum framework for Advanced Placement American History, and it fits nicely with the fifth goal of the Senate Majority Caucus, which is “Ensuring that the founding principles of our constitutional republic are taught to our students so that they are equipped for self-government and able to maintain their heritage of freedom.”

The resolution claims that

the framework presents a biased and inaccurate view of many important themes and events in American history, including the motivations and actions of seventeenth to nineteenth century settlers, the nature of the American free enterprise system, the course and resolution of the Great Depression, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

It further states that the framework does not match the Georgia Performance Standards for social studies, and asks that he College Board return to the prior curriculum, which was aligned with the Georgia standards. Should the College Board not comply with the legislature’s request, the resolution contemplates having the state school board implement an alternative curriculum compliant with the Georgia standards, and asking the governor to work out reciprocal agreements with other states to honor the Georgia curriculum.

The controversy over the AP US History curriculum has been brewing for a while, especially in Gwinnett County. The AJC examined the situation in Gwinnett, and reported that for now, no changes are expected in the curriculum:

The A.P. course is designed not to simply test a student’s memory, but to measure critical thinking skills, Gwinnett officials say.

“We begin teaching that in the first grade,” Debbie Daniell, Gwinnett’s social studies director, said of some of the material critics say isn’t included in the A.P. course. “It is absolutely taught in our U.S. history courses, with rigor and depth of knowledge.”

The state’s new school superintendent, Richard Woods, recently said he wants to issue Georgia’s 123,000 fifth-graders pocket copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

“Students need to know about our Founding Fathers,” Woods said.

The effort by the legislature to influence the curriculum at elementary and secondary schools is similar to efforts in other states. The New York Times published a story on Wednesday about how legislators in Arizona and a dozen other states are considering requiring students to pass a civics test given to immigrants before they can become American citizens. Some in the education field are pushing back against the idea:

The move to require students to pass the citizenship test has created controversy, however, and not because of any issues related to immigration. Rather, at a time when resistance to standardized testing is growing, some educators worry that the new requirement will rob teachers of instructional time and will encourage rote memorization rather than a more robust discussion of civic involvement.

“I don’t think the test measures what is most important for students to learn,” said Diana Hess, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and senior vice president of the Spencer Foundation, which gives grants in support of education causes. “If all we’re asking students to do is answer very simple questions, we’re not going to be working on the complex understanding that I think students need in order to participate well.”

In Florida, legislators have proposed requiring students in the 8th and 11th grades to watch the movie America: Imagine the World Without Her by Dinesh D’Souza, a film that celebrates American exceptionalism.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Alan Hays told the News-Press that it is needed to counter “erroneous” information being taught in history classrooms, which he said is overly negative. “Frankly, it’s embarrassing that we allow these lies to be taught in our school system,” Hays said. “Unfortunately, our parents and our school board members have not kept up with the misrepresentation of American history that is being perpetrated in our school system, and this movie gives a totally different view.”

At least one Georgia legislator has considered filing a bill similar to the Florida bill this session, requiring students to watch the D’Souza film.

That there are three separate but related measures from state legislators across the country shows, at minimum, some discontent with the curriculum being taught in public schools, and the point of view that curriculum espouses. While activists last year were–and in many cases still are–concerned about how the Common Core Standards would affect education, the concern about the AP US History curriculum, civic knowledge, and American exceptionalism is much more closely tied to what children are taught, and less to the concepts they should be able to understand.

Those opposing Common Core maintained that they were trying to maintain local control over education. One question that needs to be answered is where decisions about what students are learning should be made: by an unelected national college testing organization, at the state legislative level, at the state school board level, or by county and city school boards.

33 comments

  1. Max Power says:

    “Ensuring that the founding principles of our constitutional republic are taught to our students so that they are equipped for self-government and able to maintain their heritage of freedom.”

    I know our politicians are for the most part idiots, but do they have to be this idiotic? Can they pick up a book and learn that even the founders didn’t agree on the “founding principles” that the Constitution was a horrendous mess of vagueness and compromises that tried to be everything to everyone and is a bit of a mess because of it? Perhaps instead of trumpeting rock solid founding principles we should examine the flaws and compromises necessary to form a government maybe then the next generation will be better at governing.

  2. John Konop says:

    ………AP US History curriculum….

    AP classes are college credit based. The classes should be aliened and controlled by the colleges/higher education system, since they give the credit for the degree and or certificates. Same logic applies to vo-tech track…..Which is why the state should merge the high school state management agencies with higher education. Not have 2 separate agencies…. It blows my mind people making the laws and rules do not even understand the system….

    As I said numerous times, the goal of schools should be train a person to have a skilled job and or be prepared for higher education…..stop all the non sense….The system gets more and more screwed as people on the right and left want schools to be parents…

  3. xdog says:

    Pols just can’t keep their hands off education except when it comes to actually funding it.

    If they want to encourage students to have historical awareness, and I think they should, then make it possible for them to study all the history they want by providing sufficient funding for materials and instruction.

    But don’t try to tweak AP courses to promote an agenda.

  4. John Konop says:

    Dear , William Ligon of Brunswick do you understand AP classes are for college credit? Do you understand students must take a national test to qualify for the college credit? If you screw the class up, based on needed knowledge, the students do not get credit. Since the colleges give the credit why not let them set the requirements?

  5. Loren says:

    “In Florida, legislators have proposed requiring students in the 8th and 11th grades to watch the movie ‘America: Imagine the World Without Her’ by Dinesh D’Souza, a film that celebrates American exceptionalism…At least one Georgia legislator has considered filing a bill similar to the Florida bill this session, requiring students to watch the D’Souza film.”

    That would be the film currently pulling a 15 on Metacritic and a measley 8% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which appears to put it among the 5 lowest-rated films of 2014. Written and directed by and starring a man currently serving a federal sentence for campaign finance fraud.

    What exactly are high-schoolers supposed to learn about America by being forced to watch an exceptionally bad film made by a convicted felon?

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/america_imagine_the_world_without_her_2014/
    http://www.metacritic.com/movie/america

  6. Noway says:

    Local county school boards should decide the text books and curriculum used for all grade levels. Feds and State, go away.

    • John Konop says:

      Noway,

      AP/joint enrollment are credits give by our higher education system. You can have a local school board decide to offer college/higher education credits classes….but the testing and material must be approved by the higher education system, or the students will not get the credits. This is why William Ligon of Brunswick, concept makes no sense. Mr. Ligon just received an F in school, based on understanding how it works….Ask Dr. Monica Henson who runs a charter school, it does not matter, private, charter, on line, home school and public that is the system. BTW it makes sense, you really think a college gives out credit for classes with no control of what the students learn?

  7. Noway says:

    Thanks for the help with the particulars, John. My comment was given with a utopian concept. I have no clue of the actual rules that need to be followed.

    • John Konop says:

      We are friends, just trying to help people understand system…..my youngest enters 9th grade next year, and my oldest is a 3rd year in college…..very familiar with the AP/joint enrolment process….If I seem overly harsh I am sorry…..was ironically up last night with my youngest because class scheduling was due last night….She is on the AP/joint enrollment track….even more strange one of the classes she is tracking toward is AP American History….as you could guess hit a nerve…..Finally, a major part now in getting into top colleges is the amount of successful AP classes a student takes. For schools like Georgia, Emory and Georgia Tech, I think the average is about 7 to 8 classes now. This is consistent for in state or out of state type schools……The students take an end of year test which is graded by a score ranking from 1 to 5, by the way 5 is high….top colleges will only take 4 and or 5 on the test, and it is not only held against admissions, but the student gets no credit for the classes. With that, I hope you except my apology for the tone of my last post.

      • Noway says:

        Not harsh at all. I’m thinking of how I’d like to start a school or find the best way for one to run if I were going to do that. We’ve all witnessed how traditional school like we grew up with when we were kids bears no resemblance tof what we have now. I’d probably go back to the one-room school house with a school marm with a ruler who taught the three R’s…LOL!

        • Ellynn says:

          As someone who spend alot of time researching the basics of how classrooms function, and how teachers teach in this state, I would love to start my very own school.

          • Noway says:

            “I would love to start my very own school.” Me, too. The three Rs, History, Science and Spanish from first grade forward. Nothing else. Oh, and I pick the teachers and the textbooks.

            • Ellynn says:

              It could be fun if the two of us started a school together. The debates could be endless!!!

              N.” You want to teach libeal’s art…?”
              E. “No. I want to teach a class on ‘The Arts’.”
              N. “Same thing.”

  8. saltycracker says:

    I’ll second John’s remarks but add a starter:

    Author David McCullough is oft quoted for his position:
    There should be no education majors.
    Teachers should be those who got a degree in something they love and teach what they love.
    We can require a certain number of hours of “teaching/education” classes for a teaching certificate.
    Graduate degrees can pile on a bit more administration courses.

    But all that becomes futile when we maintain a retirement program that holds teachers hostage for 30 years, then apply bureaucratic entanglements that burn them out in 10-15 years. Then more years later they bail out in their early 50’s right when they are in, what should be, their most productive times.

    The corporate world learned long ago when dumping defined plans for 401k’s they had to change how they treated employees to retain them. Time to let teachers walk with their 401k’s when burned out and we will have to figure out how to keep them, starting with higher pay for working.

  9. Will Durant says:

    “A story that questions the shaming of the US through revisionist history, lies and omissions by educational institutions, political organizations, Alinsky, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other progressives to destroy America.” — DVD blurb for America: Imagine The World Without Her

    Teach history as close to the agreed facts as possible and convey all sides on controversial topics. I personally enjoy reading about history and think it should be taught, but would rather it not be taught at all if it is to simply be propaganda.

    • benevolus says:

      “Destroy America” . That should be included in Godwin’s law; if you say that to support your argument you automatically lose.

  10. MattMD says:

    By all means let Woods issue the “pocket copies” of the Declaration and the Constitution but they need to include as asterisk on how they generally only applied to white men. I admire a lot of the Founding Fathers but we need to stop deifying them. They would probably be horrified, incidentally.

    I took AP U.S. and made a 4 on the exam but even I thought it whitewashed (no pun) the Indian removal, chattel slavery in the south and to some extent the Cold War. There are people today who think the US was the sole reason the Allies won WWII and are generally ignorant of the Eastern Front and the gigantic role the USSR played.

    • xdog says:

      But they were Commies Matt.

      Go out to Ligon’s website and read how his resolution is tied in with anti-Common Core thinking. There’s plenty of fevered prose about national agendas and the rightful owners of public education, including a link to his essay on federalism hosted by breitbart.

      http://www.senatorligon.com/

    • TheEiger says:

      Well, if we are bringing tests scores from high school to prove we are smart I made a 5 on the AP history test. Just saying.

        • TheEiger says:

          I think that all history classes in high school should be taught under a college model. No multiple choice or fill in the blank. I know that is what is easiest for teachers, but it doesn’t benefit the students. Learning history is more than knowing what happened on July 4th, 1776. It’s knowing what the atmosphere was at the time. A bunch of peasants and dirty backwoods men ( in the eyes of the British) were defying the crown and were unwilling to continue to pay taxes without representation in parliament. In reading about the founding fathers you will find that many didn’t want a break from England originally. The first Continental congress was set up to just show grievances and not a body to push for independence.

          That is just as important as those pushing for independence. Asking students the questions behind why some wanted independence and others didn’t teaches critical reading skills that are very important in life. Writing a response to a question instead of filling in a blank on a test teaches writing skills that are important no mater what you do in life.

          We need to allow teachers to teach. And not teach to tests. I promise you that if classes were taught like this kids would still remember the dumb stuff that are on current standardized tests.

          With all that said. I do think that it is okay and important to teach children why the USA is different and in my mind exceptional. The American Revolution would have been just one more footnote in the history of British conquest if we hadn’t done things different. We would be right their next to the revolts in Scotland, India and Ireland that were suppressed by a superior British army with better technology. But we weren’t, and it’s very important for us to teach students the “But we weren’t” part.

          It’s because we weren’t a bunch of peasants and backwoods men. We had some of the greatest thinkers and most well educated men of time in a building starting government from scratch. And with a lot of help and hard times and compromises on unsavory things such as slavery it worked. Where others had failed the colonies did not. Was it perfect? No. Should we teach that it was perfect? No. We should teach that it wasn’t perfect and that lead to the Civil War which made our country even stronger today. But that’s a lesson for another time.

          • John Konop says:

            Do you not see the problem with this bill? AP/joint enrolment is college based credits. A national standard was set by colleges as to what was to be taught and tested for college credit. And a ranking system was put in place via the testing to determine how much you retained. Obviously you did a very good job scoring 5, give yourself 2 smiley face stickers ;). Also as you know the scoring system is also used for admission profile for top universities.

            Do you not see an issue with a state creating their own requirements for national college class credit, and for national admissions standards set up by colleges? This is a very scary slippery slope……A school system is not required to use AP/joint enrollment set up by colleges. It is all voluntary, and as you know the test is paid by students, and joint enrollment is also paid by students less scholarship money…How does this make any sense?

            • TheEiger says:

              I’m not going to argue with you over this bill. I will be teaching my kids history at home because I don’t trust anyone else to do it right.

              I’m not a fan of standardized tests. Anything that allows teachers to be teachers and not teach to a test I will probably support. I’m not a fan of federal politicians or state politicians deciding what curriculum should be taught because there is always an agenda. The role of government in education is a funding mechanism and very and I mean very broad set of guidelines on what subjects should taught. They should not be in the business of creating standardized tests.

          • saltycracker says:

            Go Eiger. Because it’s fun. How many know one of our great founding fathers, George Mason refused to sign the Constitution? His Virginia Declaration of Rights was most influential on Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

            His issue as a frequent speaker at the Constitutional Convention was the Federalists did not fully protect the rights of individuals. His refusal to sign cost or strained dear friendships including Washington, Franklin, Adams and Madison.

            A few years later, Madison and congress heeded to the advice of Mason and the Anti-federalists and adopted the Bill of Rights. Where would we be without his perseverance ?

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