Inside efforts by President Trump and GOP allies like Dan Forest to dismantle and warp the social studies curriculum.
Even before President Trump announced a “1776 Commission” to “promote patriotic education,” North Carolina’s social studies standards were already undergoing revisions.
It makes one wonder what President Trump would think of his ally, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, since he was a proud driving force behind the social studies curriculum bill that cut in half the amount of American History that will be studied by North Carolina’s high school students.
In early 2019, a social studies curriculum bill was introduced to shake up graduation requirements. Oddly enough, this bill was sold as introducing personal finance as a social studies graduation requirement even though the same content “introduced” in the bill was already part of the existing course required for graduation known informally as “Civics and Economics.”
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I should know – I teach the course to around two hundred high school seniors each year.
In fact, many of the standards adopted this year for the “new” course are verbatim from the existing course.
At the February 2019 announcement of Republicans’ social studies shakeup, GOP Sen. Jerry Tillman said room for the new sequence of courses would be created by absorbing the “Founding Principles” course into American History. The official name of the course is “American History: The Founding Principles, Civics and Economics.” Never mind that Tillman championed the creation of the “Founding Principles” course just eight years before; he had a new itch to scratch.
As political divides, lack of civic knowledge and low participation plague our society, North Carolina’s leaders thought 2019 was a good time to gut exclusive study of civics in high school social studies curriculum. At the end of this ordeal, saving exclusive civics instruction was educators’ lone, but important accomplishment.
And in an interview in March 2019, Forest perpetuated a false narrative about the study of personal finance. Despite sitting on the State Board of Education, Forest advertised his ignorance of existing social studies standards. “We do not really teach financial literacy now and we don’t really teach economics anymore.”
Which isn’t true.
Based on this statement, I’ve taught the course all wrong by actually teaching personal finance and economics in a course required for graduation.
Furthermore he said teachers will attend training and “…take the class and then pass the test at the end of the class that declares that they’re actually eligible to go out and teach this material.” Between salary step freezes and “raises” that fail to keep pace with inflation, teachers are better versed in juggling personal finances than Forest seems to realize. Aside from that, I thought my social studies teaching license conferred the credentials needed to teach the course I’ve taught for more than four years.
It’s ironic that Forest believes people would make better decisions if they only knew better. That philosophy didn’t age well. These days, he resists masks during a pandemic and says he’ll lift the statewide mandate if elected governor next month.
Was it just about the so-called addition of personal finance? Or was it a satisfying side effect that it would also consolidate American history to leave less room for students to dive into broader perspectives and events beyond the traditional whitewashed lens?
This is a fair question given the efforts of educators across the state to warn of its effects and shed light on this misguided bill. Many in the House and a few in the Senate listened to and acted on educators’ concerns. The majority of lawmakers did not.
That’s what brought four of us to a meeting at the lieutenant governor’s mansion to meet with two of his aides. After explaining the difference between a half-credit course and a half-year course to his “education expert” and countering their talking points, we pitched a compromise that would expand the study of personal finance and preserve the in-depth teaching of American History across two courses.
Our compromise was an attempt to continue the improvements offered by the last round of social studies curriculum revisions while offering face-saving components to lawmakers who blindly plowed ahead with an idea that exposed their ignorance of curriculum and disregard for including educators in policies that directly affect their classrooms – another practice that has not aged well given recent events.
Instead of considering our compromise, the day after our meeting lawmakers buried their proposal into a different bill related to teacher contracts.
Why was this slick move used to pass the bill?
Rep. Terry Garrison proposed an amendment to include instruction on the racial wealth gap in the personal finance course – it was rejected.
Reps. Cynthia Ball and Graig Meyer also voiced concerns on the House floor about the bill’s disruptive reinvention of existing curriculum but Rep. Craig Horn countered that the concerns were unfounded, though months later they came to fruition.
This past year, as social studies curriculum standards were revised, drafts included standards for third graders to “summarize how monuments and memorials represent historical events and people that are valued by a community.”
One curriculum writer expressed concern about writers being directed by the Department of Public Instruction to make curriculum changes despite writers disagreeing with those changes.
At the June meeting, State Board of Education members instructed DPI to go beyond saying “diversity” and to name people, events and perspectives that should be included to reflect this.
Forest cannot even bring himself to use the words “diversity” in a candidate questionnaire asking about the challenges of recruiting and retaining educators of color, but alludes to it as “the problem you refer to” without actually naming the problem.
He was comfortable with using the word “diversity” last year when he said: “No other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today, because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division, and because of this identity politics.”
When DPI added token language that still failed to address the Board’s concerns in July, they delayed adoption of K-12 social studies standards until DPI could produce more specific standards that offered well-rounded historical instruction.
Aversion of acknowledging the existence of American experiences beyond a nationalistic dominant narrative is an unfortunate trend. If our forefathers gave into accepting such a narrative during our colonial experience, where would we be today?
Folks out there criticizing social studies teachers would do well to remember North Carolina’s educators demonstrated patriotism by saving exclusive civics education and trying to preserve teaching in-depth American History across two high school courses. We were met with resistance by elected officials throughout this process.