State will try history do-over

Uproar spurs course change

Staff writerFebruary 17, 2010 

The state education agency will dump its proposed changes to the U.S. history curriculum, yielding to the torrent of criticism that early American events would be dumbed down or left out.

The proposal to focus the required high-school U.S. history course on the post-Reconstruction years while teaching earlier events in elementary and middle school drew Bronx cheers from a wide variety of opponents. Those maligning the idea included history teachers, school districts, residents and legislators. The issue was featured on Fox News, which ignited national criticism. Even Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Manteo Democrat, weighed in with an open letter to state education officials last week opposing the idea.

"I think that option is pretty dead on arrival," Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer at the state Department of Public Instruction, told legislators at a committee meeting Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to taking that draft off the Web site."

The next draft will be posted online in April.

The first proposal would have been revised anyway, Garland said. Using the feedback, the agency is working on two new options. Both involve creating two U.S. history courses, one running from the pre-Columbian era to 1877, and the second from 1877 to the present.

Under one option, both courses would be required in high school. Under the second option, the recent history course would be required in high school, and local school districts would choose when to require the early history class.

Michael Belter, a high school history teacher in Rockingham County who objected to the original plan, said public outcry pushed the change. "I don't think they would have taken any significant action to change what their plans were unless there had been public attention the way that there was," Belter said.

7,000 responses

About 7,000 e-mail messages landed in the electronic basket the education agency set up to collect reaction to the first draft. That's in addition to the e-mail state school officials and school board members received.

Though state education officials tried to explain that students would cover the same early U.S. history they do now - state superintendent June Atkinson argued students would get even more U.S. history - education officials were reduced to trying to reassure the public that the schools would still teach the American Revolution and the Civil War.

The State Board of Education is rewriting instruction plans for all subjects, attempting to respond to the criticism that courses are too broad and don't give students the chance to delve deeply into important topics.

The proposal for social studies would have had early U.S. history taught in elementary school and middle school, leaving more recent history to the required high school course.

Legislators seemed relieved to hear changes are coming.

"I've been contacted by a lot of upset people," said state Rep. Marian McLawhorn, a Pitt County Democrat. "I've been upset about it, too."

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

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