Online Originals: Proposed changes in curriculum sparks debate between Board of Education members; vote Thursday

School Watch

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Members from North Carolina’s Board of Education proposed changes to the state’s social studies curriculum. However, there’s a debate between education leaders on whether or not these changes are anti-American. 

The proposed changes were formed to create a more inclusive curriculum in grades K-12. Members from the board debated the changes on Wednesday morning. Some say they went against American values. 

Other members, who favored the changes, say they provide a better understanding of American history. Dr. Meghan Manfra, a professor at North Carolina State University and a researcher in educational studies, says social studies curriculums are always evolving. 

“This type of debate is not new in the history of American education, probably in education around the world,” Manfra said. “Because what it touches on are two really important questions. The first is, what knowledge is of most worth? And the second is what should schools teach?”

Manfra said political polarization contributes the debate around social studies.  

“It really captures what folks think our students need to know about our, the history of our country, and the way it should be framed,” she said. “And so, in that way, social studies curriculum appears to be inherently political, or politicized.”

The changes were made based off public surveys and feedback from teachers. In one example, the original objective of the coursework asks students to summarize the government’s development over time. The proposed change asks students to include race, women, tribes, gender identity and religious groups when summarizing the government’s development.  

Manfra said these changes aren’t telling kids what their opinion should be, but rather helps them develop arguments for, or against, their views.  

“That’s really important because the idea is that inquiry will be infused across all of the content that’s taught,” she said. “So what’s inquiry? Basically, it’s engaging students in posing questions, sorting through historical or social science data to develop their own arguments or narratives.”

Manfra said teachers take proposals to create a comprehensive learning environment. 

“I would suggest that in the classroom that would be done in a really open-ended sort of inquiry approach where you look at primary and secondary sources to help make sense of those themes that in reference to the standards,” she says.  

Manfra said educations is evolving, and students are learning how to make their own conclusions about American history, with guidance from teachers.  

“Otherwise, it’s sort of patronizing right? To students and teachers,” she said. “That they would just pick up this document and take it up verbatim. Like, we want them to actually engage them in real deliberation and discussion about, in the historical past.”  

Manfra said even with the debate happening between the board, she hopes this doesn’t overshadow the other issues that need to be addressed.  

“There might be something of a sort of false controversy here,” Manfra said. “It’s taking away from the real issues that are facing, particularly social studies teachers in our state. We don’t have access to master pay any more for teachers, there’s no subject-specific professional development for teachers that’s offered in a systematic way, access to resources like high-quality classrooms.”

The board will vote on Thursday whether or not to accept these changes.  

The current state content standards were approved by the NC State Board of Education in 2010, with required implementation for schools in 2012.

You can read a draft of the revisions here.

Screenshot from standards page

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