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Bill proposed by Legislature could complicate American history teaching

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Bill proposed by Legislature could complicate American history teaching
By Alex Wiederspiel, WDTV

A bill that was sent to the Education Committee in the House of Delegates last month hopes to improve student's understanding of American history, but does the new bill go to far in trying to accomplish this?

Under H.B. 2107, students wouldn't be able to graduate from high school without three semesters of American history, and they can't take any classes outside of American history before they've completed those three semesters. But curiously, there is a list of topics that students are prohibited from learning about until they've completed their three semesters of American history.

The bill states that students wouldn't be able to take any history classes that deal with social problems, global economics, foreign affairs, the United Nations, world government, socialism, or communism. Instead, the emphasis would be placed on the nation's founding, The Federalist Papers, and the Anti-Federalist Papers. But will students be able to gain full understanding of U.S. history without some of the auxiliary topics? West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee says no.

"I've said over the seven years I've been [WVEA] President, if you want to make changes in public education that will make a difference for kids, bring the experts into the table," said Lee. "And those are the teachers across the state."

Another chief concern comes from older language that is already on the books. H.B. 2107 penalizes teachers who don't comply with the curriculum with a small fine, a misdemeanor charge, and a one-year suspension.

"It's a curriculum devised by teachers," said Lee. "So since we never heard of anyone being fined under these penalties, it tells me that teachers that are out there are always doing their job."

Republican Delegate Jim Butler told 5 News that he feels confident that the language of the bill would have been amended if the Education Committee decides to take it. The new bill states that it wants to "safeguard our Constitutional Republic," and Butler says that he agrees with the core principle of the bill, even if the language needs work.

The bill had eight Republican sponsors--Jim Butler, Ruth Rowan, Michael Moffatt, Kelli Sobonya, Eric Householder, Cindy Frich, Geoff Foster, and longest serving member of the House John Overington--who has proposed this bill every year since 2005.

The stricter regulations though would make it more likely that a teacher could come in violation of the penalty subsection. If this bill does go to committee, Butler said he'd like to see that language removed entirely. That's something Dale Lee would support as well.

"Teachers dive into more than just one simple concept," said Lee. "They let our students know that our Founding Fathers were brilliant in the idea of the government they established, but they were humans and they had human flaws and had to go through a lot of battles."

Lee expressed other concerns about the bill. He told 5 News that teachers should have been consulted because they're the experts on educating students.

American history has long been intertwined with some of the topics that students, in theory, wouldn't be able to learn about if the new bill became law. Can you really teach the Cold War without first teaching about Communism? Can a history teacher explain the founding of the colonies without explaining the social problems of the time from religious persecution in Europe? And can students comprehend the American Revolution without understanding global economics, the British Industrial Revolution, or taxes? Dale Lee said the answer was no. And these questions were exactly why Butler wanted the language clarified in committee.

Butler told 5 News that he doesn't believe the Education committee will take the bill this session, but that it's something that could be revisited in the future.