Op-Ed: ‘American Birthright’ a model for Kentucky standards do-over

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The following op-ed is written by Jim Waters, CEO of Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which describes itself as a free-market think tank

It’s unacceptable if not downright disrespectful, even embarrassing.

Despite a long and proud history of patriotism, Kentucky’s public education system has implemented unbearably incomplete and vague social studies standards.

These standards are supposed to include what students should learn about our nation’s historical events, including important contributions made by individual Americans.

Here we are, celebrating the annual observance of America’s beginning, yet most key players in our country’s founding – including Benjamin Franklin and James Madison – aren’t even named in Kentucky’s standards.

And it’s like the unmentioned battles of Lexington (Massachusetts, that is) and Concord – the Revolutionary War’s first military engagements – didn’t even happen.

You’ll search the Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies in vain for any mention of Abraham Lincoln (born here, for goodness’ sake!) or of any other president save Washington and Jefferson.

Also, how can Kentucky’s current standards be considered anything but disrespectful of the many brave men and women who have served our nation in the many armed conflicts since World War II which don’t garner even a mention?

How can the Korean and Vietnam wars and the more recent conflicts in the Middle East not find a place in standards indicating what we want children to learn about our history?

Even though World War II made the cut, it was in a very general way.

None of the war’s key events – not even Pearl Harbor or D-Day – are deemed necessary for Kentucky students to learn about.

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Also largely ignored in these standards are some of mankind’s most inspiring stories involving research and invention.

Even when an invention like the airplane does get included, you’ll search in vain for mention of individual inventors.

Coverage of geography in Kentucky’s hollow document is, well, hollow.

There’s no reference to Antarctica and only scant mention of South America.

Because the document is almost completely depersonalized, important players in South American history like Simon Bolivar are ignored.

Much more about what’s missing from the current standards is detailed in the Bluegrass Institute’s landmark 2020 “Preserving History” report.

Fortunately, the recent release by the National Association of Scholars of new and useful model standards titled “American Birthright” shows it doesn’t have to be this way – even when the concern is length.

“American Birthright” in its 149 pages includes far-more helpful factual information about history, geography, civics and economics than Kentucky provides in its verbose 229-page document.

Important themes all students should master – Liberty, Faiths and Nations, Science and Technology, State and Society and Culture and Achievement – are richly covered in the new model.

Should all students learn about Lexington and Concord?

“American Birthright” believes they should.

Should they learn about key founders?

“American Birthright” says “yes.”

“American Birthright” also includes more details regarding World War II than just telling teachers that students should “analyze the role of the United States in global compromises and conflicts (such as) World War II,” helping teachers out with lists of crucial battles and key players like President Franklin Roosevelt and Nazi tyrant Adolph Hitler all students should know about.

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The new model also includes discussions about assessing students’ performances and examples of how writing in these areas is expected to develop as they move through the grades.

Such material is noticeably missing from Kentucky’s current standards.

The bottom line: “American Birthright” shows Kentucky can do its standards much better.

There’s a unique opportunity right now to make improvements.

The Kentucky Department of Education is assembling teacher groups to review the current social studies standards to add items required by legislation passed during this year’s General Assembly.

If those teachers want to get this revision of Kentucky’s standards right, they should consider “American Birthright” as a framework to build meaningful, relevant – and respectful – standards for our kids.

Failing to reform these standards will just prolong the disrespect and do our students – and nation – a great disservice.

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