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Archive for Thursday, November 11, 2004

Distracting divisions

Philosophical differences too often seem to sidetrack members of the state school board.

November 11, 2004

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It's discouraging to realize that the already contentious division within the Kansas State Board of Education will only continue -- or even get worse -- after new board members take their seats in January.

A report in Wednesday's Journal-World of discussion concerning the wording of various state curriculum standards doesn't offer much hope for improvement. Rather than focusing on big-picture issues that affect state schools -- such as ensuring the availability of highly qualified teachers or declines in the state's high school graduation rate -- it appears members spend considerable time parsing the wording of curriculum standards to suit their personal preferences.

Board member Connie Morris, for instance, didn't like the fact that the fifth-grade history goals didn't include some reference to the role religious oppression/freedom played in the settling of the United States. The proposed wording that says students must compare "the motives and technology that encouraged European exploration of the Americas" would seem to address that issue but apparently not as completely as Morris would like.

Board member Steve Abrams wanted to pick apart the eighth-grade civics/government goal for students to recognize "the rights guaranteed, granted and protected by the United States Constitution and amendments including the Bill of Rights." Abrams' preferred nuance would require the state to make clear that the Constitution doesn't grant rights to citizens, but rather restricts the government's powers.

Such attempts to micromanage what teachers cover in classrooms across the state are unproductive. Board members eventually decided that board members who disagree with the wording of curriculum standards should voice their objections to the committees drawing up the standards. That's unlikely to end the debate, but at least it lowers the volume and doesn't command as much of the board's time.

Perhaps the most disturbing topic discussed at Tuesday's meeting was the revival of the idea that Kansas schools should place less emphasis on the history of nations around the world. Teaching students less about different nations and cultures makes no sense in a time when the world is getting smaller by the minute. It's important to understand the history, culture and government of Kansas and the United States, but to ignore the impact of foreign cultures and governments at a time when those factors play such a huge role in America's future is shortsighted and foolish.

Board members reportedly are seeking a compromise between those who want to de-emphasize the teaching of world history and those who want to maintain or increase it. Hopefully they will take a suitably global perspective.

It would be nice to be able to say that the much-discussed conservative-moderate split on the state school board may spur some lively discussions among board members but won't seriously impact the education of the students of Kansas. Unfortunately, some of the statements and arguments put forward at Tuesday's board meeting seem to indicate that isn't the case.

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