Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, speaks to the Louisiana Department of Education’s steering committee on new social studies curriculum standards. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
A Louisiana Department of Education steering committee Saturday released a new version of the standards for Louisiana students learning social studies, updating the content and timeline of what history is taught in public schools.
Under the proposed new standards, kindergarten through second grade students will be taught Louisiana and world history at an introductory level.
By first grade, students will be expected to “describe democratic principles, including but not limited to equality, freedom, liberty and respect for individual rights.”
Third through fifth graders will be broadly taught world history, as well as “indegenious Louisiana history and early French exploration and colonization.”
“The goal was to build knowledge chronologically and systematically, beginning in prehistory to 1600 AD,” Nathan Corley, director of special projects at the Louisiana Department of Education, said.
Sixth through eighth-graders will be taught U.S. and Louisiana history in tandem.
By seventh grade, students will be expected to explain the causes and effects of 19th century events such as the Civil War and Reconstruction.
By eighth-grade, students will also be expected to analyze the Civil Rights movement in the context of Jim Crow and the United States’ entry into World War II and events in Europe.
The new standards have drawn significant interest from the Louisiana Legislature. Lawmakers during this year’s legislative session proposed multiple bills mandating changes to public schools’ social studies curriculum as conservative concerns about critical race theory swept the country.
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Garofalo ended up being removed as chair of House Education Committee after saying schools should teach “the good, the bad and the ugly” of slavery.
But the merits of critical race theory — a framework used to demonstrate how racism has shaped and continues to shape modern society — have been debated nationally. Former President Donald Trump attacked the idea during his last year in office. His administration released a September 2020 memo banning federal agencies from anti-bias training that the administration characterized as “divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”
President Joe Biden erased Trump’s order on Jan. 20, the day he was inaugurated: “I’m rescinding the previous administration’s harmful ban on diversity and sensitivity training,” he said. “Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies.”
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Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, endorsed the proposed social studies standards.
“There has been compromising on both sides to where now people feel comfortable,” said Freiberg, who is White.
But Rep. Tammy Phelps, D-Shreveport, said she isn’t satisfied with the social studies proposal. She believes the new standards don’t fully address African-American history or the contributions of people of color to Louisiana and the United States.
“It’s still very vague when I believe we should be specific when talking about history,” said Phelps, who is Black.
The new standards will come before the House Education Committee Oct. 11 for discussion. Freiberg and Phelps are both education committee members.
“It’ll be interesting when (the new standards) are brought to the (House) education committee to see if there are people that still have issues,” Freiberg said.
Parents and teachers can submit public comments online to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education about the new standards. In December, the board will then review the revised standards, along with public comments.
If the revised standards are approved, they will be implemented by the 2023-24 school year in Louisiana public schools.
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