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History Class Vital

Upfront, I’ll admit that I’m a history nerd. It’s the subject I loved the most in high school and college. If Netflix had a documentary on the history of dirt, I’d watch it.

That passion is one reason I was extremely disappointed to learn that the State Board of Education has recently proposed a change to the graduation requirements of social studies classes our high school students must take in order to graduate.

Currently, high school students need to take four history/civics classes to meet their graduation requirements. Students typically take World History freshman year, U.S. History 1 sophomore year, U.S. History 2 junior year, and an additional history/civics class senior year.

However, if the board’s proposal were to be adopted, a school would be able to cut those requirements and instead only offer a single course on U.S. History, attempting to cram all of our nation’s history into one class.

While currently a county may offer a single U.S. history class, they are also required to offer the two-course pathway. From what I can tell, very few, if any, counties have taken the single-course option. The Board’s proposed plan would eliminate that two-course requirement — and would also eliminate our students learning about some key moments in U.S. history.

Imagine a world in which Pearl Harbor or the war in Vietnam never happened. No, this isn’t some alternate history show streaming on Amazon. It’s what students would (or wouldn’t) learn in the single U.S. history class option — because neither is taught in that course.

The president of the State Board has stated that he supports this reduction, and claims it is the path to flexibility in student scheduling.  This flexibility, however, already exists. Currently, students need 22 credits to graduate.  Eighteen of the 22 credits are prescribed, leaving the remaining four required credits available for student choice. Students on a seven-period schedule take 28 credits by graduation. Students on a block schedule take 32 credits by graduation.  Succinctly, students have either 10 or 14 flexible credit opportunities already — and I firmly believe that lowering the history requirements just to add one more isn’t worth the tradeoff.

What makes this proposal all the more frustrating is that the State Board proposed the same cut in social studies credits back in 2017, only to pull it back after receiving overwhelmingly negative feedback from the public. Their response after backtracking stated that “(t)he Social Studies requirement will remain at 4 credits to ensure students are prepared to participate in a global society.”

My question for the Board is, what fundamental change has occurred in education since then? Has history become less important? I would argue that recent events at home and around the world would justify the need for students to learn all they can about our history and our government.

This proposal was developed with the help of 109 external stakeholders — yet only a single social studies teacher was part of that group. And while that group had its input into the change, you can still give yours by submitting a comment on the Department of Education’s website until January 24th.

We are all well aware of the often-used adage, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

I just hope that the State Board of Education has learned something from their history, so students can continue to learn ours.

Senator Weld represents the 1st Senatorial District and serves as the Senate Majority Whip as well as the Chair of the Military Committee and Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee in the West Virginia State Senate.  He is also an attorney with the firm of Spilman, Thomas & Battle in their Wheeling office. 

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