LINCOLN — America's Founding Fathers, as well as other historical figures and dates will be restored in proposed new Nebraska social studies standards, a state official leading the rewrite said Tuesday.
Their absence from an earlier draft, which focused instead on broad concepts and themes, drew criticism from the public and some members of the Nebraska Board of Education when released in April.
“We will definitely be adding historical figures back in there,” said Donlynn Rice, administrator of curriculum, instruction and innovation in the Nebraska Department of Education. “We listened to the input.”
However, fresh concerns about the draft standards were raised Tuesday as Rice briefed state board members on the progress of the rewrite.
Board member John Sieler of Omaha, a former Republican Party official, expressed concern that the draft standards suggest that manmade global warming is fact, not theory; advocate for global government, which he said is not recognized in the U.S. Constitution; and fail to emphasize American exceptionalism.
In 2007, state lawmakers directed the Nebraska Board of Education to update the state's academic standards — language arts, math and science are already done. This year, it's social studies.
Nebraska's nearly 250 school districts must adopt the standards or enact their own standards of equal or greater rigor.
A committee of 45 Nebraska educators is rewriting the standards, which are a guide for teachers of history, economics, civics and geography.
The initial draft contained broad directives such as making sure high school students can “analyze and evaluate the impact of people, events and symbols upon history in the United States and abroad.”
That draft put greater emphasis on personal finance and called for teaching students to look at history from multiple perspectives.
The draft also encouraged students to “engage in appropriate civic activities” such as advocating for personal rights, the rights of others and influencing government action.
Nebraska's current standards, 33 pages written in 1998 to guide instruction in kindergarten through 12th grade, mention dozens of historical figures, dates and details. Some critics have said Nebraska's current standards are overly detailed, a virtual laundry list of human events, people and places.
Sieler said the initial draft standards wrongly suggest all cultures are equivalent. To illustrate his view, he referred to a recent news article about an Afghanistan woman accused of adultery who was shot to death before a crowd of men.
“That is not a cultural equivalent to American beliefs,” he said.
He said the standards should talk of capitalism and free enterprise as positive forces.
Sieler said constituents have complained to him that the rewrite process was not open to the public.
Rice said work is under way on a new draft.
“I think people will be very pleased when they see the next iteration of the draft,” she said.
People will have ample opportunity to weigh in, through an online survey and a public hearing, she said. The department held three forums to collect public comments on the initial draft.
She said she received 72 emails with constructive comments as a result of those forums.
While the next draft will include more detail — such as having students memorize the 50 states and capitals — it will not go so far as to dictate curriculum to schools, she said.
“That's the schools' job,” she said, noting Nebraska's tradition of local control of schools.
Molly O'Holleran, a board member from North Platte, said the standards should avoid bias.
“It should be nonpartisan and not limited to any political party,” O'Holleran said.
She said she is willing to let the rewrite process evolve. She said such conversations are what social studies are all about.
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