Comparable Education Standards Will Rewrite History (and Other Outrageous Claims)
“What happens when we stop teaching American exceptionalism to our students? What happens when the American history they are taught is not the one you and I were taught, but a history of grievances?”
That was a question posed by then-Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to a crowd in Washington, DC, last year. Comparable education standards—specifically, Common Core State Standards—Jindal contended, were imposed on states by the federal government, and therefore could subject students to all kinds of wild ideologies.
Such arguments didn’t stop at standards, either. Advanced Placement U.S. History became embroiled in controversy. The accelerated course, which is offered in most high schools, cast “America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters,” critics alleged – and with some efficacy.
The same month Jindal spoke to the group mentioned above, a committee in the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to replace the state’s AP U.S. History framework with a “more pro-American” curriculum (the bill’s sponsor later pulled it back to clarify the language; “We’re going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish and it’s not to hurt AP,” he said).
Since then, such accusations have largely abated.
Comparable education standards are not a means to rewrite history or a tool of the federal government to indoctrinate students with certain ideologies. Standards outline the skills and knowledge students should reasonably be expected to master at each grade level. How educators support students to reach those goals (curriculum, lesson plans, materials, instruction) is entirely the purview of teachers, administrators and local school boards.
A PolitiFact analysis that considered the claim that comparable education standards’ purpose is to instill religious or political beliefs a “Pants on Fire” rating. Standards outline “the knowledge and skills students are required to have in each grade, from kindergarten through high school, not the curriculum schools use to teach those standards,” the report explains. “That’s a far cry from attempting to instill particular religious or political beliefs.”
What’s more, Common Core State Standards – those Gov. Jindal claimed threaten to exclude American exceptionalism from U.S. History – only cover math and English language arts. They say nothing of Social Studies or History (or Science or the Arts, for that matter). It’s hard, then, to understand how rigorous, comparable education standards pose a risk to the integrity of how U.S. History instruction.
Gov. Jindal’s rhetoric isn’t altogether surprising. Once an ardent supporter of comparable standards, as he prepared a short-lived presidential bid his tune quickly changed – which we’ve written about before. (We also noted previously, trying to curry favor with voters by opposing rigorous, consistent education standards has also proven a losing political calculation.) But no matter how often claims are repeated, it doesn’t change the fact implementation of higher standards remains a state-led effort.
Parents and policymakers are right to be vigilant about ensuring their child’s education is managed close to home. But baseless claims that intentionally agitate those worries only do a disservice to constructive policy discussions – and jeopardize a high-quality education for all students.