Esteemed Members of the State of Idaho’s Board of Education,
I write to ask to be included as a member of the public who wishes to make a statement during your upcoming October meeting in Lewiston. As I understand the format, such comments are to be of only a few minutes duration. Assuming that you can make time in the Agenda, please let me know when and where I might have the chance to address the Board in session.
Idaho, along with every other U. S. State I’ve researched, has accidentally neglected a core function of American Public Education. This neglect is not a product of malice. Rather, it is a function of blind spots integral to the philosophies that have dominated pedagogy since John Dewey nearly a century ago.
Progressive Education and its successors see education as the diagnostic application of scientifically-tested methodologies. The goal is to inculcate skills and habits in students which will lead to their willing integration as functioning members of our society. Wherever possible, the terms and assumptions of these are rooted in quantitative research. This view minimizes the need for History.
History is nothing less than society’s memory. Consider the uttermost importance of memory by its absence in any victim of Alzheimer’s disease. Moment-by-moment, all that we are as a unique person is perpetuated by our living memory. So it is with culture. Without a critical mass of citizens understanding who we are as a society, the distinct set of values and experiences which made ours the longest functioning Constitution in today’s world, will fade into an un-remembered irrelevancy. Without our cultural memory, American society will quickly lose its cohesion, identity, and freedom.
Public schools were established to prepare common people to responsibly exercise their franchise. Universal mandatory education was chosen as the necessary counterpart of the universal adult franchise, intended to inoculate voters against demagoguery. Our American Republic is in the hands of voters, so the preparation of those voters is of paramount importance.
This is the justification for all History and Social Studies curricula. Yet, Idaho currently makes no requirement that High School students be systematically introduced to the unique cultural heritage that produced and continues to energize our Republic. Currently, Idaho standards encourage one year of “World History & Civilizations” to be taught somewhere between Grades 6 and 9. U. S. History I is now taught anywhere between Grades 6 and 12. Grades 10 through 12 are now devoted to U. S. History II, U. S. Government & Politics, and Economics.
1. Middle School students simply lack the intellectual sophistication and emotional maturity to understand the complexities and subtleties that comprise notions of human freedom and value.
2. “World History”, by its insistence on being culturally neutral, does not sufficiently focus on the complex narrative History of the West necessary to comprehend where our Founders found their inspiration.
3. “United States History” begins this tale near its end. If our Founders’ inspirations are understood in context, they can be appreciated as the results of thousands of years of intellectual history. If students have no sense of this context, or of the deeper pedigree of their ideas, than the Founders’ convictions can be dismissed as merely outdated opinion.
The following fundamental restructuring of Social Studies requirements should remedy this situation. At least two years of the History of Western Civilization should become state-mandated graduation requirements. Ancient and Medieval Western History should ideally be taught in the 9th Grade, while Modern European History since Columbus should be taught in Grade 10. Civics should be integrated into an 11th Grade U. S. History course, covering from the pre-Columbian Americas to 1898. Economics and U. S. Government & Politics should be integrated into a 12th Grade U. S. History course, covering from the Spanish-American War through the present.
Every High School Graduate should have passed four years of History, designed to introduce each to his or her own culture and civilization. Other cultures would be covered in these courses at their point of contact with the West. For example the divergent histories of China and Japan from the 1840s through the 1940s would be taught as part of 19th and 20th Century History.
Other cultures have value, but it is of critical importance for American students to understand their own Western culture; a culture that belongs to all of us, regardless of ethnicity, faith, or background. Understanding the policies of today’s Peoples’ Republic of China also require a knowledge of the West, as the Chinese Communist Party is inspired by Marx and rejects Confucius.
All students, academic and non-academic, deserve to have the story of their own culture coherently explained to them in terms they will understand. They each need to understand why the people of the United States are touched by events all around our globe; why prosperity is linked to stable world trade and why they might someday need to go to war.
There is no such thing as a “Global Citizen”; what we are obligated to do is educate globally-conscious American citizens in a manner consistent with their future civic duty. Please consider the need to introduce Idaho’s future adults to their own culture and duty.
Ralph K. Ginorio
Coeur d’Alene, ID