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Don’t micromanage curriculum

A high school freshman from Lake Oswego, Claire Sarnowski, is on a mission. She, with the help of state Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener, hopes to persuade the Legislature to require high schools to teach about the Holocaust.

It’s a worthy subject without question, particularly in this era of heightened ethnic tensions in the country and worldwide. That said, many high school world history textbooks include sections on World War II in general and the Holocaust more specifically.

There are good reasons not to add a specific curriculum requirement to what the state’s high schools must offer. Tinkering with curriculum that way is, generally, bad business.

What Oregon students need is a broad curriculum that, for many students, is a stepping stone to college but for about 40 percent of graduates, likely the end of the educational line. That means history classes that routinely teach about African-American history, as one example, and the Holocaust, as another. Both shed light on major influences on the modern United States, in the case of African-American history, and the modern world, including the U.S., in the case of the Holocaust.

Neither should be there simply because supporters believe the topics are important. In the case of the Holocaust, it’s a required part of high school world history classes in this state, and world history is required for graduation. American history classes surely already include discussions of African-American life, as well. Teachers should not be forced to cut attention to some other important part of a history curriculum because another part has outspoken support for increased attention.

Again, both topics are important ones, and worthy of inclusion in any high school curriculum. That’s not true of every topic, however, and lawmakers must be wary of jumping on the history bandwagon of the moment.

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