Nebraska's proposed social studies standards are so vague they would invite misuse by teachers with a political agenda, according to a coalition offering to substitute a more detailed, conservative-leaning version.
The Rev. Val Peter, former executive director of Boys Town, and leaders of four conservative groups want their own version substituted for one drafted by Nebraska educators that is up for adoption Dec. 7.
They sent a letter this week calling on the Nebraska Board of Education to make the switch.
Peggy Sigler, a spokeswoman for the Liberty Education Advocacy Coalition, called the state's draft standards that would guide instruction in public schools “mushy.”
“They are not measurable, and it leaves it wide open for whatever teacher is in the classroom, with whatever ideology, to, frankly, push it on the kids,” said Sigler, a Catholic Republican from Omaha.
Officials with the Nebraska Department of Education have emphasized at public meetings that the proposed standards are intentionally broad out of respect for Nebraska's tradition of locally controlled schools.
Molly O'Holleran, state board member from North Platte, said she wants to study the proposal.
O'Holleran said public input has already improved the draft standards, but the decision on what to include ultimately rests with the board.
“Just because you invite people to share their opinions with the state board of education doesn't mean that you're obligated to use their language,” she said.
In 2007, legislators directed state board members to update the state's academic standards. Language arts, math and science are already done. This year, it's social studies.
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 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 academic rigor.
The state's current standards were written in 1998.
Peter, who retired in 2005 after 20 years as Boys Town's executive director, criticized the state's draft standards in a Nov. 12 letter to the drafting committee.
He described them as “a trendy, upper/middle class version of a political progressive view shared by few Nebraskans.”
“You must have mistaken the embracing of the U.N.'s view of educating youth with bringing our children into the 21st Century,” he wrote.
Five coalition members signed the cover letter submitting the substitute standards to state board members: Jerry Anderson, organizer of Conservative 912 Group of Sarpy County; Nancy Carr, chairwoman of America on My Mind; Doug Kagan, president of Taxpayers for Freedom; Rachel Pinkerton, coordinator of Liberty Education Advocacy Project; and Peter.
In drafting their substitute language, coalition members drew upon the departments of education in Virginia and Texas and conservative sources, including Eagle Forum, the Heritage Foundation, the Pioneer Institute, Seton Home School Program and Hillsdale Academy.
The coalition's proposed standards are far more detailed than the state's proposal, mandating that kids learn important dates and figures. The state's draft standards, instead, suggest examples of people, dates and events teachers might want to teach about under broader concepts.
For instance, the coalition's standards would require fifth-graders to identify the Founding Fathers and “patriot heroes,” including John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others.
The coalition's standards would eliminate the reference to climate change in the state's draft, as well as other elements of human geography, and add specific language pertaining to American exceptionalism.
Students would be taught to “understand the concept of American exceptionalism” and the values that French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville identified as underlying America's success as a constitutional republic: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire.
Sigler said Nebraska has an Americanism law on the books that she believes mandates that schools teach about exceptionalism.
The law requires schools to teach about “the benefits and advantages of our form of government and the dangers and fallacies of Nazism, Communism, and similar ideologies.”
Sigler said the coalition members are not out to brainwash kids in blind patriotism.
Under the substitute standards, she said, children will get “a factual, accurate understanding of our history, what our government system is all about constitutionally, what's happened in history, the good and bad of that and how it stacks up factually against other governmental systems, whether we're saying socialism, Marxism, monarchies, whatever.”
The public may submit comments on the draft standards through Wednesday.
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