Proposed standards: Read the draft and comment on the proposals
Climate change would be taught in Nebraska high schools, but American exceptionalism would not — at least not explicitly — under draft social studies standards released Monday by the Nebraska Department of Education.
Whether to include those topics, and how teachers would present them to students, could be the most contentious issues as the department kicks off a 30-day comment period on the proposed standards that would guide teaching in the public schools.
On Monday, members of the Nebraska Board of Education had good things to say about the draft, praising it for clarity, breadth and ease of use.
The standards describe what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in history, geography, civics and economics.
The department tapped about 50 social studies educators — from the elementary school through college levels — to rewrite the standards. Nebraska's 249 school districts must adopt the final standards or enact their own of equal or greater rigor.
While noting good progress toward a final version, board members disagreed on how to deal with the two hot-button topics.
John Sieler of Omaha, who has advocated the teaching of American exceptionalism, said he was disappointed in the latest draft, which was written with input from three independent reviewers.
Sieler, a former Republican party official, said America is founded on the belief in inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“We are the only country that was founded on those concepts,” he said.
While America's system might be discussed when students compare governments and learn the principles underlying the U.S. Constitution, he said, he doesn't want the message of exceptionalism left to chance.
Board member Lynn Cronk of Grand Island said she's not opposed to the belief in American exceptionalism. However, she said, the phrase itself has become too politicized to include in the standards.
“My personal belief is that we should resist efforts to politicize education for our students,” she said. Students should be presented with a wide range of information, and, with the advice of parents, draw their own conclusions, she said.
Molly O'Holleran, a board member from North Platte, said the state should respect local control and resist imposing a political agenda on school districts.
“It seems really important that we remain respectful of our origins and our heritage as Americans, and yet see history through multiple perspectives to better understand other cultures, other people that impact America today and tomorrow,” she said.
A historian enlisted by the state to review the draft standards cautioned against using the phrase. In an email to staff at the Nebraska Department of Education, Jeremy Stern suggested an alternative wording.
“I personally would be wary of the term 'American Exceptionalism.'... It has become extremely politically charged in recent years, and could convey unintended baggage,” Stern wrote.
He suggested something more neutral, such as “the American journey.”
The concept of climate change appears in the draft under a geography heading.
The topic heading calls for students to develop and apply spacial perspectives, geographic knowledge and geographic skills “to make informed decisions regarding issues and current events at the local, state, national and international levels.”
Climate change, which is not mentioned in existing Nebraska standards, is in the draft as a concept that students would evaluate along with loss of biodiversity, deforestation, ozone layer, air pollution and other “environmental geographic issues.”
While Cronk said she is OK with the language, Sieler said he is opposed to wording that suggests climate change is man-made.
“Yes, the planet warms and cools over a period of years, but I don't think that mankind causes that,” he said.
If board members can't agree on language, Sieler said, he would rather leave it out.
Stern also weighed in on climate change.
He wrote that the state should introduce climate change in earlier grades.
“Though I recognize that there may be political pressures not to do so, these are questions today's children will regularly encounter from an early age,” he wrote.
The Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning, another reviewer, concluded that Nebraska's proposed standards compared favorably to the standards in four states considered standouts: California, Indiana, Georgia and Massachusetts.
• Request paper copies of the draft standards and survey by contacting Donlynn Rice at the Nebraska Department of Education, 301 Centennial Mall South, Lincoln, Neb., 69509, or by clicking here.
• A public meeting to gather input is scheduled for Nov. 15. The time and location will be posted later on the Nebraska Department of Education home page.
After public comment, a final draft will be drawn up and submitted to board for approval in December.
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