The case for more details in Ohio’s history standards
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 What “historical documents” were you taught in social studies and American history classes?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 documents.
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 should meddle.
An editorial 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 agree.
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.
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