LINCOLN — Against the backdrop of Pearl Harbor Day, members of the Nebraska Board of Education voted 8-0 Friday to adopt new social studies standards, intended to guide the teaching of history, economics, geography and civics in public schools.
Eleventh-hour changes in an earlier draft appeared to have soothed board members' concerns over the treatment of “American exceptionalism” and climate change.
However, the spokeswoman for a coalition of conservative groups expressed dissatisfaction with the standards and vowed to review them to see whether they comply with a World War II-era Americanism law, which requires teaching the advantages of constitutional democracy and the perils of communism and Nazism.
Peg Sigler, speaking for the Liberty Education Advocacy Coalition, said board members appeared to have incorporated some of the group's recommendations but said the standards still appeared vague.
“They've still got Jell-O to work from,” Sigler said.
Brian Halstead, assistant commissioner and general counsel for the Nebraska Department of Education, said the standards were “fully in compliance” with state law.
The Americanism law, he said, is directed at local districts, a level of specificity not required in the state standards.
Board President Jim Scheer said that if people were concerned their schools weren't abiding by the Americanism law, they should contact their local school boards.
Generally, American exceptionalism is the notion that America's founding principles, such as inalienable rights, individual liberty and consent of the governed, make the country unique and special among the world's nations.
The new standards describe the United States as “an exceptional nation” but avoid the phrase “American exceptionalism,” which critics say is politically charged and vague.
The standards will guide instruction in the state's 249 public school districts. However, districts write their own detailed curricula for teaching them.
Districts have one year to adopt the standards or enact their own of equal or greater academic rigor.
The standards include language clarifying how social studies teachers should teach climate change, a topic not addressed in previous standards, said Donlynn Rice, curriculum and instruction administrator for the Nebraska Department of Education. High school teachers may address “recent global climate change theories and evidence that supports or refutes such theories.”
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