Basnight opposes changes to limit history curriculum

Published 10:47 pm Sunday, February 14, 2010

Staff Writer

Opponents of a proposed change by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to the history curriculum offered to public school students gained a powerful ally last week.
Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, who represents Beaufort County in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, has said he opposes the change.
“I understand that the Department is presently seeking feedback on a draft plan that would expand U.S. History education in elementary and middle school grades, but would limit the course work to 1877-present in the 11th grade. I am absolutely opposed to any change that would limit the study to the years proposed,” Basnight said in a letter dated Feb. 12 to state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison.
Basnight’s opinion on any issue carries a lot of weight since he, as president pro tempore of the state Senate, plays a key role in determining the fate of legislation governing and the budgets of all of the state’s agencies, including those for the state’s public schools.
Beaufort County school administrators haven’t yet weighed in on the proposal that would focus high-school U.S. history classes on the past 132 years. But they have established a link from the Beaufort County Schools’ Web site to the department to let local residents comment on the change.
The deadline for commenting on the proposal has been extended to March 2. It was originally set at Feb. 15, a spokesman for the department said earlier this week.
“Any changes the state makes to teaching U.S. History must be an enhancement to what students learn in high school and not downshifting in any way. As a reader of history myself, I think that no one should graduate from high school without a thorough understanding of the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers, the writing of the Constitution, and the personalities involved. Furthermore, it is my belief that only high school students have the capacity to understand complex and awful parts of our nation’s history such as slavery and the Civil War. To exclude the founding of our nation at its early struggles from our high school curriculum would be doing a disservice to our students and teachers alike,” Basnight wrote.
Currently, ninth-grade students take world history, 10th-grade students study civics and economics and 11th-grade students take U.S. history in a survey course that goes back to the nation’s founding.
The proposed changes would provide a year of U.S. history in elementary school and middle school. The high-school civics course includes learning about the nation’s development and foundation. The high-school U.S. history course would begin with 1877, the end of Reconstruction. The years before Reconstruction would have been covered with students in fourth grade, as part of North Carolina history, in fifth grade and in seventh grade, according to the Department of Public Instruction.
“Sadly, students know very little about history as it is,” Basnight wrote. “We should be doubling, maybe even tripling, our efforts and enhancing the course work that is now taught in high school. . . In fact, I would like to see history taught in expanded and unique ways, perhaps as an extracurricular activity outside of the school day if time cannot be found during the regular school hours, even as a means of extra credit. However do not carry on with the thoughts of the changes as presented. U.S. History is too precious and important and must be taught in its entirety during the high school years.”
Basnight sent copies of the letter to Gov. Beverly Perdue, members of the state Board of Education and members of the state Senate.
The change has garnered national attention and led to a flood of telephone calls and e-mails to the department in Raleigh from both ends of the political spectrum, including conservative family groups and university professors.
North Carolina’s current curriculum, as well as the proposed draft, are available online. The information is available via the Beaufort County Schools’ Web site at