Bruce Craig: History Defined in Florida Legislature

Roundup: Talking About History

[Bruce Craig is director of the National Coalition for History.]

Buried in a 160-page bill—the Florida Education Omnibus Bill (H.B. 7087e3), essentially a comprehensive K–12 education bill—that Florida Governor Jeb Bush recently signed into law, are new provisions designed to "meet the highest standards for professionalism and historic accuracy." Some Florida history teachers, though have questioned the philosophical underpinnings of the law.
The most controversial passage states: "American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence." To that end teachers are charged not only to focus on the history and content of the Declaration but are also instructed to teach the "history, meaning, significance and effect of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and the amendments thereto." Other bill provisions place new emphasis on "flag education, including proper flag display and flag salute" and on teaching "the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy."

Unlike the U.S. Senate version of the proposed new federal "Higher Education Act" (S. 1614) that defines "traditional American history" as "significant constitutional, political, intellectual, economic and foreign policy trends and issues that have shaped the course of American history. . . key episodes, turning points, and leading figures," the Florida statute does not specifically define American history at all. Rather, it describes what American history is through listing specific periods and episodes: "the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present." As a consequence, needless, to say, much is left out....

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