Politicizing education: a lawmaker’s role in school curriculum

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Rogers, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Educators defend curriculum procedures after the recent political debate to alter or ban certain topics from schools.

Josh Depner was passionate about his job teaching Arkansas History and AP U.S. History at the Arkansas Arts Academy. So passionate, he did not hold back in a profanity-laced letter to lawmakers debating education bills.

“I saw these things as dangerous to the integrity of our social studies curricula.”

Josh Depner, former teacher

“From the time I sent that letter, I recognized I went about it the wrong way and I accept responsibility for those actions,” Depner said.

Depner lost his job after that. He has since apologized but stands by the message behind his letter.

“I saw what I perceived as an overstepping of the authority of our legislatures,” he said.

This past legislative session in Arkansas featured plenty of education bills.

“I saw these things as dangerous to the integrity of our social studies curricula,” Depner said.

Those bills include House Bill 1218 which would prevent schools from promoting division, resentment or social justice for race, gender and other social classes, House Bill 1231 which would prohibit schools from using state funds to teach the 1619 project, and House Bill 1761, which would prohibit teaching that an individual person is a racist or that the United States is Systemically racist.

“Teachers, administrators and content experts all look at this curriculum,” Dr. Curtis Cunningham, Dept. of Teacher Education Chair at John Brown University said.

Source: Southern Poverty Law Center Survey

Cunningham says he does not think these bills are necessary. He says the process of creating school curriculum is already very thorough.

“All the opportunities that a variety of stakeholders have to weigh in on what’s being taught in public schools, I think there are enough checks and balances in place,” Cunningham said.

When politics gets involved, you get differing views of major historical events. For example, was the Civil War fought over state’s rights or slavery? According to a 2017 Southern Poverty Law Center survey of high school seniors, only 8% of students could answer why the South seceded from the Union.

Likewise, federal politicians have differing views on the severity of the Capitol riots on January 6.

Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Georgia) recently stated, “If you didn’t know that TV footage was a video from January the sixth, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”

On the other side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has said, ” That day, one of the darkest days in our history, our temple of democracy was under assault by insurrectionists…The insurrection was called for to impede our Constitutional mandate”.

Given the differing tones, we asked State Representative Robin Lundstrum (R-District 87) and State Representative Nicole Clowney (D-District 86) how January 6, 2021 should be taught in schools for future generations. Watch here for their responses.

Rep. Lundstrum has a background in education and co-sponsored a couple of hotly debated bills. So we asked her, why get lawmakers involved in school curriculum.

“If it bubbles up to the legislature, we usually need to answer the question. Maybe the answer is no, maybe the answer is just running a bill and saying wait a second, we need to pump the breaks which I think both of those bills were,” she said.

HB 1218, HB 1231 and HB 1761 have not become law. But. for Depner, he just wants it left up to the experts.

“We have a group of highly qualified teachers who already determine what curriculum should look like in specific classrooms,” he said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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