The Kansas State Board of Education got its first look Wednesday at new draft social studies standards that would guide the teaching of history, government, geography, economics and various other courses.
Among other things, the new standards would increase the emphasis on the teaching of racial and ethnic diversity.
The Department of Education is now accepting public comments on the draft document. The state board is expected to vote on a final document in March.
Don Gifford, the education agency’s history-government program consultant, said the new standards are the result of 18 months of work by a 35-member committee that included representatives from all levels of education, from preschool through post-secondary, as well as the Kansas Historical Society and various community representatives.
“That committee just performed amazingly well,” Gifford said. “It was a very collegial group. We were able to get a lot done in short periods of time. When we delegated work, that work got completed at a very high quality.”
Traditionally, debate over social studies standards has been almost as politically charged as debates over science standards and the teaching of evolution. In the realm of social studies, though, the controversies in years past have centered on how students are taught about controversial issues such as communism, racial discrimination, the treatment of Native Americans, and the role the United States has played in world affairs.
The Rev. Ben Scott, who heads the Topeka chapter of the NAACP and served on the writing committee, had expressed concern early on that the current standards don’t pay enough attention to the role of ethnic minorities.
“And we dealt with that in developing these (new) standards,” Scott said. “I really think if you look under the benchmarks (of the draft new standards), you’ll find people, places and so forth that I’m hoping will be picked up by the districts, and to make sure that those kinds of things are fairly represented across a broad spectrum.”
In the section dealing with high school U.S. history, for example, the document spells out various eras of history that should be covered, and it breaks out main ideas to be emphasized, important people and the roles they played, certain places and institutions that were important, and specific events.
Within the “World War I and Roaring 20s” era, the document mentions President Woodrow Wilson and John J. Pershing, but it also emphasizes people such as writer and social activist Langston Hughes, jazz artist Louis Armstrong and the influence of the Ku Klux Klan.
Board member Carolyn Campbell, whose district includes Lawrence and who is the only African-American on the state board, said minorities have not received enough attention in social studies classes in the past.
“I’m a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Campbell said. “As a child, with my history in school, I can remember what they taught us about colored people — that’s what’s on my birth certificate — that we were slaves. So I was ashamed until sometime I really got to understand my church and what all we did. ... I want our children — all children — to be able to appreciate where they come from.”
The draft social studies standards can be viewed at www.ksde.org/Default.aspx?tabid=1715.