Nebraska Just Approved More Inclusive Social Studies Guidelines. They're a Window Into the Changing Way Kids Are Learning U.S. HistoryHistorians in the News
tags: education, Nebraska, social studies, US History
The process of updating social studies standards happens regularly — Nebraska was due for a revision, as the last one came seven years ago — but the extra steps taken in Nebraska are a window into the way that conversation is changing, amid increased public scrutiny of what American students are learning about history.
And in today’s world, those decisions are perhaps more urgent than ever.
“Just thinking back to the 2016 election, we had teachers who were afraid or didn’t know how to engage students in facilitating conversations about that particular election, and we don’t want that to happen,” says Cory Epler, Chief Academic Officer at the Nebraska Department of Education. “We want to help kids engage in civil discourse and present ideas that are factual and grounded in history or geography, to listen and respect and be able to communicate those viewpoints.”
The 2012 version of Nebraska’s social studies standards framed the purpose of such a class as teaching children to be “young patriots” who understand “the genius of our country’s founding principles.” It leads off with a quote from President Ronald Reagan saying that the Founders’ purpose was “not only to teach all Americans how to read and write but to instill the self-evident truths that are the anchors of our political system.” The new standards contain no formal statement of purpose, but lead off with a graphic featuring the words “questioning,” “communicating,” “evaluating” and “applying.” One difference between the two editions can also be seen clearly in the description of what first-graders should be able to learn about civic participation. Both documents include the guidance that students of that age should be able to “identify patriotic symbols, songs, actions, celebrations, and holidays,” but the new standards have added a point to the checklist: students should also be learning about the history behind those holidays, including “the roles that different cultures played in our community/nation.”
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