Hearken back to junior high
and high school for a moment. What “historical documents” were you taught
in social studies and American history classes? The U.S. Constitution?
Your state’s constitution? What about the Declaration of Independence or
the Federalist Papers? The Northwest Ordinance (especially if you grew up
in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Minnesota)?
My entire K-12 education
was in Ohio public schools. When it came to history, I didn’t take any
electives or special courses beyond whatever was required for me to earn a
diploma. Yet, I was taught all of these important historical texts,
multiple times, from seventh grade through twelfth. So I was surprised to
see bills moving through the Ohio legislature that would require
schools to teach what I thought were standard fare for Ohio’s students. In
fact, at first blush it seemed implausible to me that many schools weren’t
already doing so.
My husband, also an Ohio
public school alum (from a quote-unquote better district than I attended), had
a different reaction when I told him about the legislation. He guessed at least
two-thirds of students learn virtually nothing about the Federalist Papers in
high school. And he said he wasn’t taught anything about the Ohio Constitution
in K-12. Huh, maybe there ought to be a law.
This issue isn’t a new one
for Fordham. The bill’s sponsor in the Ohio House, Rep. John Adams, cited
Fordham’s February 2011 The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011
as evidence of the need for a change to state law. That
report gave Ohio’s history standards a D and specifically dinged Ohio for not
calling for enough specific content, including important historical texts and
I respect and value the
ability of individual schools and teachers to make expert judgment about what
information they present to their students and when. And I certainly
don’t want the state to be micro-managing what happens in the Buckeye State’s 3,400+
public schools. But this is exactly the sort of area in which the state
in the Columbus
Dispatch summed up nicely why Ohio’s history standards should be
amended to clearly call for instruction of these texts:
A clear understanding of the Constitution and other
documents is vital if children are to grow into effective citizens and uphold
the values that distinguished the American experiment: limits on government
power, to prevent it from crushing individual liberties; and a reverence for
civil rights that protect individuals from a majority with which they might not
Those are concepts that any American should embrace.
Moreover, study of historical documents, rather than
summaries, offers a more-rigorous challenge to students and allows them to
consider the ideas without any ideological filter.