PIERRE, S.D. – North Dakota students may or may not learn about the first 100 years of America’s history.

Important topics like the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and the framing of the U.S. Constitution may simply be ignored by teachers under new history standards approved by the state’s board of education last Monday, the Argus Leader reports.

Current standards do not allow history teachers to delve into topics before the Civil War, so the new standards open up the door but don’t require teachers to cover early American history, as many would have preferred. The recently adopted history standards are set to take effect in 2016-17 school year and whittle the current standards from 117 pages to 44.

“Our current history standards do not even give an option as to whether it’s comprehensive or modern,” board president Don Kirkegaard told the news site. “It’s strictly modern.”

The board decision concludes a yearlong public hearing process plagued by parental protests over the history question as well as opposition to Common Core social studies and science standards.

earlyhistoryAs part of that process, numerous history processors from virtually all of the state’s large universities sent a letter to the school board explaining why they believe that not requiring students to learn early American history will be a serious problem, both for higher education and the state in general.

“Incoming freshmen arrive unprepared for history because they aren’t learning early American history at the high school level, according to the letter, which was signed by instructors from (Dakota State University,) University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, Northern State University, Augustana College, Presentation College, the University of Sioux Falls and Black Hills State University,” the Argus Leader reports.

“And the problem isn’t just a matter of college freshmen being ready to discuss Thomas Paine at a university level. A sound understanding of history and civics can help them when they’re in the voting booth, watching the news and making life decisions,” according to Dakota State University dean Ben Jones.

“It’s disabling their citizenship,” he said.

Harrisburg School District Secondary Curriculum Director Michael Amolins seems to agree.

“I think progress helps our students prepare for the 21st Century. So rather than just having them memorize a list of historical events on a time line, we’re trying to get them to use that information in context so that when they’re looking at current events they can make good informed decisions as citizens and voters,” he told KSFY.

Augustana history professor Michael Mullin told the site “history really isn’t about yesterday.

“History is really about understanding today. And I think they forgot that,” he said of the decision to make early American history optional. “They just want to think about today but without a context.”

The Argus Leader’s editorial board also chastised state board members for their vote, and urged them to “step back and take another look at this.”

From the news site’s Saturday editorial:

Ben Jones, dean and associate professor of history at Dakota State University, has said he and his colleagues are “astounded by the level of ignorance” of U.S. history that they see in freshmen.

But there are other important reasons to teach high school students about our nation’s early history.

Constitutional topics are common in today’s political debate and students without a solid understanding and who do not have the appropriate level of context for these discussions are at a disadvantage. As citizens, we need to understand our rights and duties as well as appreciate how they came to be.

The Constitution is referenced in nearly every important election campaign. The separation of church and state, religious and press freedoms, the 2nd Amendment and gun rights are all popular political topics of our time. But without an understanding and appreciation of the early debates on these matters, young citizens are not able to accurately assess Constitutional protections and threats. Rhetoric and misinformation can easily fill the void.

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