Proposed changes to history, gov’t curriculum are problematic

Posted 2/21/24

I am a parent and an educator. I have worked in public education for nearly 14 years at the secondary level as a social studies teacher. I am not writing this as a representative of my district or my …

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Proposed changes to history, gov’t curriculum are problematic


I am a parent and an educator. I have worked in public education for nearly 14 years at the secondary level as a social studies teacher. I am not writing this as a representative of my district or my union. I feel that it is time for a calm voice to cut through the clamor.

As a Government and Sociology teacher I have felt increasingly that I am walking a razor’s edge. Now with Governor Reynolds's proposed education reform bills, it feels that one wrong word could bring the entire state down on me. Despite this, I am still willing to do my job every day.

It seems that almost weekly we are being presented with new changes to our state’s education policy. A recent proposal looks to present only the high points of our nation’s history and government in an effort to teach “devotion to the exceptional and praise worthy history of the United States.”

I, for one, agree that our nation is a beacon of democracy and freedom around the world. I support the idea that the United States has accomplished remarkable feats in an astonishingly short amount of time in global history. Unfortunately, these new proposals to the social studies curriculum endanger what makes our achievements truly remarkable.

The U.S. is not exceptional because we have a flawless track record. We are exceptional because we have failed, fallen short, and still pulled ourselves together to make things better.

In the preamble to the Constitution the Founding Fathers outlined the goals of our fledgling nation to create a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. This is the mission statement of the United States. Like all mission statements, it is something to aspire to. Have we always lived up to the highest standards of these goals?


But the failures have led to our better tomorrows.

This is the true story of American History. Our greatest triumphs have come from the shadows of our darkest moments. Take Pearl Harbor as an example. This was one of the greatest failings in the history of U.S. Intelligence. It put the United States, and the world, in jeopardy of falling under the bootheel of authoritarian dictatorship. We were losing battle after battle in the Pacific as the Imperial Japanese military conquered islands at an alarming rate.

From this darkness came the light. American servicemen stationed on isolated lumps of rock that most Americans at the time could not even find on a map were standing firm in the face of overwhelming odds and refused to quit, giving the last full measure of devotion to the cause of liberty and justice.

They lost.

They were killed and captured and forced to endure incredible hardship. Other nations have crumbled under less, but their strength in the face of those losses inspired a nation in peril to hold on and fight back.

The same can be said of a 14-year-old boy who was brutally murdered for an assumed slight to a white woman in the summer of 1954. Emmett Till was the victim of a devastating attack that left his corpse disfigured and unidentifiable. If it wasn’t for the brutal torture he endured at the hands of his assailants, authorities would never have found the class ring on his broken and swollen finger that led to his eventual identification.

Despite all evidence pointing to their guilt, the butchers responsible for this heinous crime were found not guilty. Less than a year later, they described in detail their lynching of Emmett Till to Look magazine for $3,000. Because of the 5th Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Clause, no criminal prosecution of them could take place after this confession.

The spotlight shined on this case helped to galvanize a generation of African Americans to stand up, sit down, and march toward equality. Just like Pearl Harbor, a tragedy led to progress. Failure is often the first step on the journey to improvement and ultimately success.

I have worked diligently to try and present a balanced vision in my classes. I take multiple views from conservative to liberal to challenge students to think and build perspective. If a student has been in one of my courses, they have certainly heard me tell them, “Not saying that this is my personal opinion, but taking the opposite view for the sake of discussion…” I strive to keep my bias out of the classroom. I am not here to tell kids how to think. I am here to encourage them to think.

We need to look at the totality of American History to understand where we are today, warts and all. We have been a global leader in the fight for freedom and that needs to be praised. Unfortunately, we have also fallen short of these lofty ideals in our own nation.

I am an ally with parents, not an adversary, and I have worked with many fine educators who approach their content with the same consideration as I do. It is possible to educate kids about issues and not advocate or demonize them. If we want to have any chance of addressing these issues in the future, it starts at home and in the classroom with open dialogue.

The passion that ignites such fervor over the controversial topics of race, gender, sex, and now history all stem from the same place on both sides of the aisle. We are passionate about kids and their future. Once we are able to recognize this profound fact, we can begin to work from this solid foundation to move on from our past failures into a brighter future.

Schuyler Snakenberg