FRANKFORT: Senate Bill would Create Standards for Teaching Key Civics Topics

FRANKFORT, KY (Feb. 17, 2022) — Legislation that calls on public schools to teach certain concepts and historical documents – ones that supporters say are central to American principles – cleared the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.

Senate Bill 138 says schools must provide instruction in social studies that aligns with a list of concepts such as “all individuals are created equal” and “Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law,” among several others.

It also calls for topics on public policy or social affairs to be taught with consideration of the students’ age and for educators to incorporate two dozen core documents from American history into lessons.

The bill’s primary sponsor and chair of the committee, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the purpose of the legislation is to preserve alignment of middle and high school standards with American principles of equality and freedom.

“Amid national and state-wide tensions that seem to be further dividing us, I’ve drafted a bill with the intent to unify, Wise said.

“Our entire country is facing a lack of knowledge when it comes to civics education. This is at no fault to our educators, but rather a reflection on a growing concern that Americans are falling behind in understanding the importance of civics and government education,” he continued.

Wise testified that, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than a quarter of American 12th graders are proficient in civics, and only 12% are proficient in U.S. history.

“Although the new K-12 social studies standards have been upgraded to quality performance-based terminology, both educators and parents have complained that the standards seem to lack specific reference to key people, key events, key struggles and key challenges and also ongoing successes that have forged American democratic principles of equality, freedom and individual rights,” Wise said.

Some of the documents and speeches that would be incorporated into middle and high school social studies include The Mayflower Compact, The Declaration of Independence, The U.S. Constitution, The 1796 Farewell Address by George Washington, The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln, Of Booker T. Washington and Others by W.E.B. Du Bois, and Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

The bill was approved in committee after a series of changes to the original wording. Wise said the revisions clarified his intent and reflected input from various stakeholders.

Several people, both for and against the legislation, took turns testifying before committee members. They included parents, students, a man whose family was directly affected by the Holocaust, educators and a representative from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, complimented Wise for considering input, but said he is not in favor of the bill.

“I don’t know why we create this boogeyman of critical race theory, and now we’re buying into that here in Kentucky because we don’t teach critical race theory here in our K-12 schools,” he said. “And I don’t know why we have to color the boogeyman of critical race theory Black. I am really troubled by that because that just feeds into racism that exists all across this country.”

Thomas said the teaching of history should be open for discussion, and he fears not talking about it could make matters worse. Even some of the United States’ most terrible times in history should be freely broached, he said.

“We’ve got to talk about slavery and the oppression that occurred. We’ve got to talk about the Trail of Tears and the horrors that Native Americans faced. We’ve got to talk about the Holocaust in hopes that we never see that again. I mean, those are things that happened in our past,” he said.

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