History course shift sets off uproar

Proposal incites torrent of e-mail

staff writerFebruary 5, 2010 

  • History would center on big ideas, such as conflicts and their common causes.

    Fourth grade: Historical events in North Carolina.

    Fifth grade : Historical events in the United States. Among the objectives would be understanding why people immigrated to North America and colonial life. Students would compare major battles and military campaigns.

    Seventh grade : The social studies course will explain how technological and other innovations transformed North Carolina and the United States. Students would consider how conflicts over taxation, land ownership or race led to such events as the American Revolution, the Indian Removal Act and the Wilmington race riot of 1898.

    Eighth grade : The U.S. role in global conflict resolution. Understand the impact of globalization.

    Tenth grade: Examining U.S. national identity though precepts in the Constitution such as republicanism, federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, rule of law, limited government, democracy. Considering individual liberties in the light of ideals such as natural rights and inalienable rights, popular sovereignty, civil rights and equality that are derived from founding documents.

    Eleventh grade: Evaluate the role of domestic and foreign conflicts in increasing the power of the United States federal government. Critique the outcomes of major political and diplomatic decisions made by the United States during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Evaluate reasons for U.S. entry into major global conflicts.

When Fox News ran a story Wednesday about a North Carolina proposal that would focus high-school U.S. history classes on the last 132 years, phones in Raleigh started ringing and e-mail accounts brimmed.

Angry voices asked: Will schools forget about the Founding Fathers? Is the Boston Tea Party getting dumped? Will the Revolutionary War be muzzled?

Under the proposal for teaching social studies, which would have to be approved by the State Board of Education, American history would be spread across several grades. Students would start learning American history in elementary school, as they do now, and continue through middle school and high school. The big junior-year survey would cover the years after Reconstruction.

State school officials said students will still get early American history, but it won't all be crammed into the 11th grade.

The proposal would have fifth grade focus on the United States, rather than hitting America, Canada and Mexico, as it does now. North Carolina and U.S. history would continue in seventh grade, and eighth-graders would study the U.S. role in world affairs. Tenth-graders would study the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

"We're not giving up the Founding Fathers," said Rebecca Garland, the chief academic officer with state Department of Public Instruction. Garland, who happens to have been a history major, spent six hours answering e-mail Wednesday night after appearing on Fox News, assuring people that the state appreciates the subject's importance.

Mom is aghast

Deanna Rogers of Clayton, mother of a son in first grade, was horrified when she read a story on the Fox News Web site on the history plan.

"I was thinking, surely they were not saying they are not going to teach North Carolina students about the Civil War," said Rogers, who attended Broughton High School in Raleigh.

The Fox News story, headlined "North Carolina Schools May Cut Chunk out of U.S. History Lessons," suggested that President Abraham Lincoln would be left out of state classrooms under the proposed curriculum change. Upset viewers flooded state school officials with comments.

More e-mail is coming. The local conservative Christian group Called2Action is asking people to tell Garland of their objections.

"The progressive, historical revisionism that seeks to undermine the Judeo-Christian heritage of our nation is alive and well within the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction," Called2Action chairman Steve Noble said in an e-mail message Thursday night.

Rogers, the Clayton mother, said she was relieved that early American history would still be taught, but said it would be a mistake to push it out of high school. Students need to study early American history in high school to succeed in college history courses, she said.

Rogers said that when she took college history, "I needed to know about the Civil War. If you haven't had that since eighth grade, that seems disturbing to me."

Goal: delving deeply

The State Board of Education is rewriting the school curriculum in all subjects, with a goal of having students delve deeply into topics rather than regurgitate facts. The revisions attempt to respond to the criticism that the existing curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep, leaving students with superficial knowledge of many subjects.

Students are sophisticated enough to understand advanced concepts in middle school, Garland said, and the proposed changes would leave more time for 11th-graders to learn recent history.

"What students are telling us is the part of history they don't know is the history of today, of the 20th Century," Garland said.

Students say they don't know the history of the Vietnam War, or the roots of the current Middle East conflicts, she said. It's a challenge for teachers to get to those topics, she said, when all of American history is packed into one course.

'A continuous thread'

Dean Arp, chairman of the Union County school board, said his members understand the challenge of squeezing all American history into one course. But the board is sending a letter to the state protesting the changes, saying students' knowledge of pre-Reconstruction events is crucial to understanding modern America and current world conditions.

The average elementary or middle school student would have trouble grasping the advanced concepts, Arp said.

"Students need to be able to draw parallels from our history," he said. "There's a continuous thread from American history that extends to world history and where we find ourselves today."

The curriculum writers have completed only the first draft of the history plan, Garland said. It will go through several revisions.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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