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North Carolina Education Department Used Koch-Funded Group For Proposed History Lessons

Education Politics Tribune News Service

North Carolina Education Department Used Koch-Funded Group For Proposed History Lessons

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By Lynn Bonner, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) (TNS)

RALEIGH, N.C. — High school social studies teachers in North Carolina would be encouraged to use curriculum materials prepared by an institute funded by the conservative Koch family, under a proposal the Department of Public Instruction presented this week.

The Bill of Rights Institute, based in Virginia, had a $100,000, sole-source contract with the state to help develop materials for teachers to use in a course on founding principles that the state requires students to take. The institute was founded in 1999 and receives grants from David H. Koch, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, according to a website on Koch family philanthropies.

The state Department of Public Instruction decision to “highly recommend” that school districts use the Bill of Rights Institute material comes as the state is embroiled in a controversy over teaching history — whether schools have students study the founding principles as the law requires, whether AP U.S. History meets those requirements and whether the college-level course developed by the College Board has a liberal bias.

The 390-page founding principles curriculum includes readings, activities, questions students should discuss and references to online resources for the 10 principles described in a 2011 law inspired by proposed legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by major corporations.

June Atkinson, state school superintendent and a Democrat, said the state looked for groups that could help write the founding principles curriculum but found only the Bill of Rights Institute. The institute did not return phone calls.

The institute collaborated with state educators, Atkinson said, and they requested feedback from teachers, who reviewed the work and suggested changes.

“It wasn’t a carte blanche, we’ll take what you have,” she said. “We wanted a balanced approach.”

But history teachers said in interviews Wednesday that they already have a wealth of resources available for teaching the founding principles. Some said it was not appropriate for a Koch-connected group to write public school course materials, and none knew that the state had hired the institute to develop a curriculum.

Charles and David Koch are active in conservative politics and finance an expansive political network.

People whose “principal concern is profit-making” should not develop curriculum, said Bryan Proffitt, a history teacher at Hillside High School in Durham. Curriculum should be developed “in a democratic fashion” by people closest to the classroom, he said.

State education officials maintain that a required course on civics and economics covers the founding principles as the law intended. To emphasize the point, Department of Public Instruction is recommending that the name of the course be changed to “American History: The Founding Principles, Civics and Economics.” DPI staff gave the State Board of Education its recommendations Wednesday.

State legislators, education leaders and board of education members have spent this week talking about founding principles, AP U.S. History and requirements under state law. Larry Krieger, a leading critic of AP U.S. History, spoke to legislators and school board members Monday, saying the course does not meet state requirements. Krieger also argues that the course has a liberal bias. A representative from the College Board said the course meets the requirements.

State Rep. D. Craig Horn, a Republican who has been involved in education matters, said he hasn’t made up his mind whether the AP course meets state requirements but wants to make sure that the law is obeyed.

“My concern is our kids being taught in our schools should have a fundamental understanding of what makes us ‘us,’ ” Horn said.

Horn knew of the recommendation to rename the civics and economics course but did not know of the Bill of Rights Institute’s involvement in writing the curriculum. He said it would be difficult to answer questions about it.

“I don’t want to presuppose something,” he said. “I have not carefully reviewed the superintendent’s recommendations on what should be done.”

Harry Watson, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said he’s not surprised by the controversy.

“The way we think about the American past has a great deal to do with how we think about the American present and what kind of country we think we are and what kind of country we’d like to become,” he said. “Certainly, when you’re directly addressing the way the nation’s past is taught to impressionable young people, you’re directly talking about what kind of country they will believe in in the future. I wish it weren’t being fought out politically, but I’m not surprised.”

Watson said he didn’t think it appropriate for the state to turn to a Koch-funded group to help write history lessons.

“I think the Koch brothers have demonstrated they have a strong and active partisan interest in politics,” he said. “I don’t think the public school curriculum should be written from a partisan perspective.”

It is unusual for the Department of Public Instruction to tell school districts how to teach a course. Typically, the state sets out goals for grades or courses and lets the districts and teachers decide how to meet them. The state does point teachers to a variety of available resources.

Atkinson said the founding principles law required a different approach because it specified a curriculum be provided. The law also says that local boards of education should be involved in providing it.

History teachers said they did not fully understand the outcry, since it would be impossible to teach AP U.S. History without referring to founding documents and because teachers are free to add material that must be covered.

Paige Meszaros, an AP U.S. History teacher at Longleaf School of the Arts in Raleigh, said the controversy doesn’t reflect what’s happening in the classroom where she teaches the founding principles.

She uses information from the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress and other sources in her classes, and said it’s a bad idea to have a single curriculum for a course.

“You’re setting up students for failure when you limit their world view,” she said. “It’s not allowing teachers to be professionals. I would love to look at the lesson plans, but I would not want that to be dictated.”

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8 Comments

  1. Richard La France December 5, 2014

    I have begged and pleaded with my representatives to pull in the reins on the Brothers Koch. I was shut out by them. So I turned to the only Senator (Bernie Sanders) who appears to have our backs and speaks out daily against the Koch machine that is gobbling up this country.

    It’s taking too much time for the liberals to get the truth out to the general public – evidence Black Friday and the frenzy over stuff that will be in yard sales or garbage heaps in a few years. No one wants to listen to the truth when it’s too easy to blow away your earnings on the people who employ you and others.

    North Carolina isn’t the first state to have the issue of the Kochs changing history and demanding it be taught a new way. Texas has already published and is distributing the pretend history made up by conservatives to make kids believe, for one thing, that slaves were treated well and were quite happy on the plantations. I don’t know whether they eliminated facts like tarring and feathering, or hanging or shooting. But it seems likely they would if they want people to believe the slaves were happy…[to be separated from their loved ones when sold on the block to the highest bidder].

    With our prison population higher than all the other countries in the world put together, why is it that the biggest criminals on earth are allowed to walk free, visit the halls of Congress with bills written THEIR way, bribing Congresspersons to pass them and joyfully seeing the success of their passage? Why? When police brutality is soaring because the Pentagon donates military gear to the police and the San Diego Police Department is in training with the Marines and Navy; when the Kochs already made a successful attempt (which later was reversed) at re-segregating the schools of Wake County, North Carolina, how long will it take for the people of this country to learn the truth of what’s happening?

    For as much truth as we get out of our news broadcasts, we may as well go ahead and allow the teaching of history in a new and incorrect version just to assuage the egos of Charles and David Koch and be among those who cram their heads up Koch assholes to savor the power within.

    As for me, I say ban the Tea Party. Arrest the Koch Brothers and all who have aided and abetted them in their corporate takeover of America – which would include the majority of people on our tax dollar payrolls because none of them have done a thing to kill the Kochtopus.

    Reply
  2. booker25 December 5, 2014

    No way should these materials be used in public or private schools.

    Reply
  3. FireBaron December 5, 2014

    The Koch brothers still lament that they removed the property-owning clause from voting rights. They also believe one dollar equals one vote, so when they go to the polls, their two votes should beat out all others combined. So much for “founding principals”, unless they are referring to the fact that a significant number of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.

    Reply
  4. stcroixcarp December 5, 2014

    If I were required to teach this course, I would be totally boring, lecture in a monotone, speak very quietly, not enforce homework assignments, not discipline anyone, and then flunk everyone.

    Reply
  5. Joe Richardson December 5, 2014

    If anyone doubts that the Koch brothers are trying to buy our government and change our future to benefit them and theirs financially, I suggest you read the recent book, ‘Sons of Wichita”. Regardless of what they or their ad agencies say, these guys are NOT acting in the interest of the citizens of this country. Carolina government officials should be ashamed for allowing the Kochs to corrupt the education of kids.

    Reply
  6. Joseph December 5, 2014

    This is happening all across the Nation – primarily in the South. The question is, ‘Who cares?” it’s not as if this region produces much more than evangelical drones, and laborers. From my point of view it is unlikely that the educational systems in the South could produce less attractive results. I deal with them and there children every day and just accept the fact that more than a generation of folks educated in the South will be the foundation work force for hiring done on the street outside the feed store for day labor on farms oir yard work.

    Reply
  7. Mike A'Doodle December 7, 2014

    We also need to keep in mind that it’s fat-cat teachers’ unions who are blocking urgently needed school reforms: http://bit.ly/1zYBfp4

    Reply
  8. Joe T December 8, 2014

    (Feel free to copy and paste anywhere) 2014

    Conservatism vs Liberalism

    >Political Views:
    Right-wing:Anti-federalist. Republicans.
    Prefer smaller government, less regulation, most services to be provided by the private sector in a free market, and a literal interpretation of the Constitution.

    Left-wing:Federalist: Democrats.
    Prefer more regulation and services like free universal health care to be provided by the government to all citizens.

    >Economic Views:
    Right-wing:
    Government should tax less and spend less. Cutting spending to balance the budget should be the priority. Higher income earners should have an incentive to invest (credits). Charity is the responsibility of the people.

    Left Wing:
    Government should provide more services to the less fortunate (like health care) and increase taxes if necessary. High-income earners should pay a larger percentage of their income as taxes.

    >Social Views:
    Right Wing:
    Opposed to gay marriage, abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Support the right to bear arms, death penalty, and personal
    responsibility as an individual.

    Left Wing:
    Gay couples to get equal rights like everyone else (e.g. marriage); abortion should be legal; support embryonic stem cell research. Support restrictions and regulation around the right to bear arms.

    >Personal Responsibility:
    Right Wing:
    Individuals should exercise personal responsibility and it is the governments role to hold them accountable even with severe penalties. Laws are enacted to reflect the best interest of the society as a whole.

    Left Wing:
    The people should look to the government to provide a structure. Laws are enacted to protect every individual for an equal society sometimes at the expense of economic freedom if necessary.

    Reply

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