Nebraska public schoolkids will be encouraged to look at history from multiple perspectives and to develop inquiry skills under new social studies standards adopted Friday.

Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education voted 8-0 to approve the standards.

Written by a group of Nebraska educators, the standards describe what K-12 students should know about and be able to do in history, government, civics, geography and economics.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these standards,” board member Deborah Neary said.

Board member Rachel Wise called the adoption “a great step forward.”

State law requires the board to update standards every seven years.

School districts must within a year adopt the standards or their own of equal or greater rigor. The state does not dictate curriculum — the courses, materials and lessons for teaching the standards. That is developed by local districts.

While the current standards, adopted in 2012, encourage examining history from different perspectives, the importance of understanding different points of view is weaved throughout the new standards, with examples to emphasize the point.

The draft standards specify that marginalized groups may view historical events differently.

The draft mentions, for example, the perspectives of religious, racial and ethnic groups, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people and Native American nations.

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LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or, in some usages, questioning.

Before adoption, several speakers expressed support for the new standards.

Lori Broady, an educator at Educational Service Unit 4 who taught social studies for 23 years at Johnson-Brock Public School, was on the writing team.

Broady said the standards are written to encourage inquiry instead of rote memorization.

“It’s having students do something with them, instead of just learning facts,” she said.

Jacquelyn Morrison, a tax attorney for the Nebraska Department of Revenue, praised the emphasis on financial literacy and the focus on multiple perspectives.

A lot of children in Omaha come from different countries and backgrounds, Morrison said.

“This new curriculum allows them to celebrate how they’re the same as a lot of their classmates, but also how they’re different,” she said.

It will help teachers discuss inclusion, too, she said, allowing children to be better prepared to live in a globalized society.

Former Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale said he “wholeheartedly” supports the standards.

Gale said that while in office, he became concerned about a lack of civics education, which he said the new standards will help to address.

Gale said the standards incorporate new approaches that will help foster in students a commitment to be active and participating citizens and to strengthen democratic institutions.

The standards had drawn some criticism from conservatives.

Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom had sought further revision. Among their complaints were that the standards were overly critical of European Americans’ role in the country’s history and that the standards supported internationalism at the expense of nationalism and patriotism.

The group also said the standards gave too little attention to the dangers of socialism and communism or to the U.S. military’s role in safeguarding the nation.

Several words and phrases appear in the new standards that aren’t in the existing ones, including “LGBTQ,” “the Ten Commandments,” “Brexit,” “Apple Pay” and “hypernationalism.”

The new words and phrases are listed as examples to help teachers develop lessons around the standards.

Native American tribes in Nebraska receive greater attention, particularly the history of their forced removal and relocation from other states to Nebraska.

Fourth graders, for instance, will identify key events in American history that shaped or were shaped by Nebraskans. Examples include the Ponca Trail of Tears, the Santee Exile and Winnebago Removal, and Native American boarding schools.

The Ponca Trail of Tears is mentioned in the current standards, but the Santee Exile and Winnebago Removal are new, as is the mention of boarding schools.

References to the tribes specify that their nations are sovereign, addressing a concern expressed by some tribal leaders that students don’t always understand the concept of sovereignty.

Marian Holstein, a Winnebago school board member and member of the Nebraska Indian Education Association, said the standards are an improvement over the 2012 version.

But Holstein told the board that further tweaks could better represent Native Americans, including introducing more about the tribes in early elementary grades and teaching about native history before the arrival of Europeans.

The standards include the addition of Will Brown as an example of a Nebraskan important to the state’s past.

20190922_new_willbrown(2) (copy)

The standards include the addition of Will Brown, a black man lynched in a 1919 race riot, as an example of a Nebraskan important to the state’s past.

Brown was a black man lynched in a 1919 race riot in one of Omaha’s darkest episodes.

During the riot, thousands of white people stormed the courthouse, set it on fire, lynched Brown and desecrated his body. They tried to hang the mayor when he attempted to stop them.

The standards mention immigration as a topic for examination.

Students will evaluate the impact of people, events and ideas, including various cultures and ethnic groups, on the U.S.

Students will “explain reasons for historical and present day migrations to and within the United States.”

Third graders will learn flag etiquette. The standards also reference the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case West Virginia v. Barnette, in which the court said students couldn’t be forced to salute the flag.

Fourth graders will learn about Nebraska state government and the unicameral Legislature.

In fifth grade, students will “investigate and summarize” contributions that resulted in the foundation and formation of the U.S. constitutional government.

As examples, the standards note early state constitutions, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights and tribal constitutions.

Students will identify the structure and function of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

They will examine the “unique nature of the creation of the United States leading to a nation based upon personal freedom, inalienable rights and democratic ideals.”

Economics lessons will put greater emphasis on financial literacy, addressing a wide range of topics, including using a debit card or Apple Pay and world trade.

The Ten Commandments appear in a section dealing with the foundations, structures and functions of governmental institutions.

Under the standards, sixth grade students will identify the development of written laws. The Ten Commandments are among the examples given, in addition to the Code of Hammurabi, Greek democracy, Axumite, Confucius and Indian deities.

Brexit — the United Kingdom’s scheduled withdrawal from the European Union pursuant to a 2016 referendum — appears in a section that calls on high school students to analyze the impact of trade policies such as tariffs and quotas. It suggests that students could research the North American Free Trade Agreement and Brexit.

The term “hypernationalism” is listed as a topic of exploration in high school.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it as extreme or excessive nationalism. The word appears in a section where students would “examine the spread of cultural traits and the potential benefits and challenges of cultural diffusion, economic development and globalization.”

Socialism, injected into the national political scene by the rise of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is dealt with in a manner similar to that in the existing standards.

It appears in seventh grade and high school standards as one of several economic systems to be compared and contrasted, along with traditional, market, communist, feudal and caste systems.

The standards do not characterize whether socialism is a good or bad government system.


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joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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