Frederick County Public Schools’ plan to introduce a Black and American Studies course for high school students is a worthy effort, but the rationale offered for it — that these topics are not currently covered adequately, and all students can’t “see themselves” in the core curriculum, according to FCPS curriculum specialist Colleen Bernard — is concerning.

Certainly, we can expect that a specialty course would “chart the accomplishments and struggles of people of African descent in America” in greater depth than a core survey course, which is wonderful, but is it unreasonable to expect that our core curriculum would also cover minorities’ history well?

Whether in a core curriculum or a more in-depth course, students should be able to comfortably discuss topics such reconstruction or Jim Crow, but some have implied this is not the case. Dr. Terry Anne Scott has been brought in to design this new course so that students “feel comfortable talking about the things that are uncomfortable and to understand that it is through that discomfort that we grow.” One would think that her well-spoken sentiment would be part and parcel of every history course, not just Black and American Studies.

What to teach about history continues to be controversial, with liberals usually arguing to place more emphasis on the history of minorities, environmental issues, and approaches to addressing problems that involve government. Liberals’ interpretation of history tends to be influenced by speculative philosophers such as Hegel, Marx, and other post-modern thought that views history inevitably leading to some sort of collectivist order.

Conservatives tends to emphasize history as a guide for moral action, viewing the past as a treasure trove of wisdom that can inform individual judgement that guides citizens in a free society. American conservatives regard the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as the best expressions in history of the tenets of good government.

Surely, a good core curriculum should contain elements of both sides. We can provide students with more depth of information about minorities and encourage them to thoroughly consider whether having more government encourages human flourishing more than our founders’ intent to constrain government for the sake of greater individual liberty. But we first must agree on the purpose of public education. I’d argue that the primary purpose of public schools is to equip students with the character and knowledge to self-govern as free citizens in a democracy, not to make students “college and career ready,” as measured by statewide tests, which don’t currently include a history assessment.

So what would a better curriculum look like? Let’s start with the fact that study after study has shown that most Americans can’t pass the test to become a naturalized citizen. While theoretical interpretations of history should certainly be part of a good high school curriculum, we should ensure students understand basic concepts like what federalism is and what the Constitutional amendments mean. Yes, we should include both the positive and negative aspects of our history, but let’s let students come to their own conclusions about whether there’s more of the former than the latter.

The 1619 project, which aims to reframe the country’s history by making slavery the center of our national narrative, includes falsehoods such as America broke from Britain to ensure slavery would continue. It’s author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won the Pulitzer Prize for her commentary expressing this view, which popularized Project 1619 teaching materials that encourage students become activists for this distorted worldview.

On the other side, Hillsdale College published the 1776 Curriculum with the goal of having students learn history and civics based on the answer to a single question: What ideas, words, and deeds have most significantly formed the world into which students were born? This curriculum includes questions from America’s citizenship test so that students can master this basic material as well as the larger questions — both positive and negative. It’s a worthy choice as either a core curriculum or as a balance to current trends in education that exaggerate America’s failings and gloss over its virtues.

Students need inspiration, too, and FCPS ought to consider including “The American Reader: Words That Moved A Nation” as required reading. This book is a wonderful collection of American speeches and poetry, including those of Emma Lazarus which adorn the Statue of Liberty. She reminds us that our nation, despite current divisions, is still the “Mother of Exiles” who “[cries] with silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Tom Neumark was the founding president of the Frederick Classical Charter School and has been involved in education reform for more than 20 years.

(29) comments

sevenstones1000

How about a history class centered on answering this question:

Was the United States founded on the principles of Liberty and Justice for ALL. Why or why not?

TrekMan

It says it on the Courthouse in the Simpsons - Liberty and Justice for most! Hahahaha!!!

Piedmontgardener

Here's the biggest problem - disagreement upon whose history gets taught. How about we simply teach it all, the good, the bad, the people of their age and just shut up about conservative or liberal history. Excellent historical instruction doesn't come with slant on cirriculum. I took both AP European and American History in the eighties, and majored in history afterwards, you could easily tell, then, biased perspective. Is America a racist nation at its heart? Certainly not by the mores of the time of its establishment, certainly during periods of time of our history. This isn't rocket science and the author wants to relitigate this issue, yet one more time.

sevenstones1000

The Founders did not accidentally exclude enslaved Africans from the meaning of “all men are created equal”. They didn’t forget that there were tens of thousands of human beings - all of one race - held in slavery under their very noses. They intentionally founded a country that allowed enslavement of black Africans and their descendants. It was discussed. It was decided on. It was the law.

These are facts, not from the ancient past, but from our past.

So yes, in part, along with the high falutin’ phrases from The Enlightenment, this country was founded on the enslavement of one race of humans.

C.D.Reid

OK, seven, now, do you know just why the founding fathers founded a country that allowed slavery?

shiftless88

Because they thought they could not form a country without it. I mean, they could have formed a country only with non-slave-holding states but they chose not to.

threecents

Out of the kindness of their hearts, right CD?

public-redux

Because they were founding a Christian nation?

threecents

Of course the core curriculum should cover topics that this class will cover. The new course will just look in more detail, just like other advanced classes.

MD1756

All well and fine. How will that advanced class help the students taking that class get a good paying job and/or develop a skill that is in demand or understand how or country and form of government came to be? (I'll say the same for other courses too).

threecents

Advanced classes challenge students, help them learn how to learn, and they help prepare them for college and help get them admitted to colleges. Also, it is good for students to be able to learn more about their history and what interests them. It is not about if they take this class, then they can't take life skills classes. MmmKayy?

Piedmontgardener

A classical liberal arts education, combined with solid scientific and math instruction used to be the gold standard of American education, MD. I don't know when that became something about jobs - it was about making good citizens who would find their way to contribute.

MD1756

It doesn't take a college degree to make a good citizen. Wouldn't a good citizen be one who can make good decisions and not have to rely on the government to survive or to feed their children?

Piedmontgardener

Stop splitting hairs, MD. Good citizens are good citizens, I merely outlined what a good secondary education like my Grandparents who weren't college graduates or I had.

Awteam2021

One of the biggest problems I have with charter schools is there push back on the “broader culture” on the public dime. I think that does more to harm, then good. If they want to stifle their children with a vanilla flavor of history, they should pay for it.

artandarchitecture

Awteam:

"One of the biggest problems I have with charter schools is there push back on the “broader culture” ..."

"I think that does more to harm, then good."

My problem with schools is that they are creating adults who don't understand the difference between "there" and "their", & the difference between "then" and "than".

Awteam2021

“a good core curriculum should contain elements of both sides. We can provide students with more depth of information about minorities and encourage them to thoroughly consider whether having more government encourages human flourishing more than our founders’ intent.” enslavement for economic gain (slave labor) verses (free labor ) human rights. Tom, should the Confederate Decoration of Independence from the United States be included in the history books? Justify enslaving humans for personal gain. I thought the Abolitionist movement went world wide out of British abolitionist .

American slaves that joined Royal forces to fight against the colonists in the revolutionary war were offered sanctuary in Britain. Following the Netherlands, France and Portugal, England joined in by abolishing slavery in all of its’ colonial states held in their imperialist empire, England end all slavery in 1833. 28 years later, the American Civil War started with the ‘Stone Corner’ speech by Alexander Stephens. It was the Confederates Decoration of Independence, by the soon vice president of the Confederate States of America. The speech given on March 21, 1861 justified secession by declaring that the disagreement over the enslavement of Africans and the ungodly thought that they were equal to whites, was the "immediate cause" of secession and war. 750,000 lives lost over 4 years followed.

phydeaux994

In Germany, kids are REQUIRED to learn about the Holocaust in school. Is that a bad thing? Should American kids be taught the horrors of Slavery in school and the 400 years of Racism since? Many are taught to be Racists in their homes as we can see in many of the comments here. And they are passing that on to their kids as evidenced in our schools today. Shouldn’t they be taught that that is a bad thing? Maybe over a generation or two we could wipe that stain off of our Society.

threecents

There is still quite a bit of virulent anti-Semitism in Germany. That stain will never leave. Nor will our stain of slavery. As others have said, it is our original sin, and it is part of our DNA.

MD1756

It should be part of the core history 9and is to some degree but should be updated to include civil rights movement of the 60s).

threecents

They taught about MLK and the 60s civil rights movement in high school US history classes even when I was in high school (the late 1970s).

TrekMan

The terribleness of slavery was taught in school when I was in middle and high school in the 70's. That subject hasn't changed since then, why now?

threecents

More details, more depth, more history.

artandarchitecture

Phydeaux994--

Unfortunately in Germany, kids are NOT REQUIRED to learn about the 1932-1933 Holodomor in school. It was the deliberate & devastating starvation of *millions* of (overwhelmingly gentile) Europeans by Communists. The Holocaust was a direct result of the Holodomor.

shiftless88

Communists did not rule Germany, artie.

DickD

Sounds like Tom doesn't want the history of Blacks in America taught to any extent. i think we should! We need to know the struggles of Blacks and how they overcame some and are still fighting for equalization.

jth7100

I am sure that this LTE will receive the attention it deserves.

DickD

Not much? Lol

shiftless88

I am wondering where Tom got his definition of what Conservatives and Liberals want out of history. But yes, Tom, these things should be taught in history but the right-wing nuts are afraid to have their kids taught anything except whitewashed history. But the key is not what people are taught but what they learn. I think kids are generally taught a lot but they do not learn it.

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