Home » Op-Ed: We should all be committed to empowering young Americans

Op-Ed: We should all be committed to empowering young Americans

by Tyler Murphy, chair of the Fayette County Board of Education

In 2019, Kentucky educators worked collaboratively to develop new Social Studies standards underscoring the pedagogical value of inquiry and analysis. These standards begin with, “Social studies classrooms are the ideal locations to foster civic virtue, apply inquiry practices, consider current issues, engage in civil discourse and build a civic identity and an awareness of international issues.”

Students forge a civic identity through the process of inquiry, both at home with their families and in classrooms, facilitated by experts with degrees in their field. Legislatively imposing a curriculum undermines an inquiry process that relies on questioning, investigating, applying evidence, communicating conclusions, and taking informed action.

While lawmakers oversee the accountability system for schools, the curriculum remains the authority of local boards and SBDMs (which includes both educator and parent representatives). In other words, the curriculum is a matter of local control. No one is arguing that parents shouldn’t be involved in their child’s learning. The question is, should politicians in Frankfort be directly involved in these decisions?

The proposed legislation moves away from this level of control, even listing documents educators must teach. The list explicitly includes the Bill of Rights–the first ten amendments to the Constitution–but not the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, or Fifteenth Amendments which aimed to expand the promise of equality and finally enshrine in the Constitution the “new birth of freedom” which many hoped would frame the nation’s founding after racial tensions boiled over in the Civil War.

Regardless of the list’s composition, its most alarming aspect is simple: a legislature with the power to dictate what documents and texts must be taught in classrooms also has the power to dictate what documents and texts must not be taught.

This has a chilling effect on the freedom of thought which is core to education. To allow an inherently political legislative body to dictate curriculum creates a barrier to intellectual freedom and sets a dangerous precedent that could readily be exploited.

Nothing is more antithetical to the “American principles” the legislation purports to defend. In fact, a recent CBS News poll revealed 83 percent of Americans oppose banning books and 76 percent believe that schools should “be allowed to teach…historical events that might make some students uncomfortable.”

My passion for teaching is fueled by the energy my students bring to our classroom and discussions. My job is not to teach them what to think about our world and the content we explore. My focus is on helping them learn how to think about these concepts. These conversations are not always easy but they are vital.

We should all be committed to empowering young Americans who can think about and engage with American history and define its “promise” — who walk away from our classrooms with the ability, the perspective, and the will to carry out that promise. Students, families, and educators are dedicated to this through local decision-making and collaboration. Will our legislators be as well?

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