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Weakening the high school curriculum

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

Right before Christmas, Steve Paine, West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools, released a statement that a revision of the state-mandated high school curriculum was being considered by the State Board of Education.

The revision in question is the elimination of several courses, including both civics and world history, as requirements for graduation. This would be appallingly shortsighted.

Presently, 22 credits are required for graduation from high school in our state, 18 of which come from passing certain specific courses. The 22 overall credits would remain under this new proposal, but there would only be 10 specific required courses (mostly in English, science and mathematics). High school students would be taking fewer required courses and more electives.

This would be disastrous.

In fact, rather than eliminating required courses, I’d like to see a half credit of financial literacy added to the requirements. It’s now taught as part of civics, and I think it doesn’t belong there.

I believe the beginning of the devaluation of public education in our country began in the 1960s, when California reduced the number of required courses for high school graduation. Students, it was thought, should be free to take whatever courses their hearts desired. This idea spread across the country.

Some blame teachers for low performance by our public schools. Nonsense. I’m convinced it’s the watering down of the curriculum that has weakened our public schools.

West Virginia already has a reputation for poor education, which is to some extent undeserved, because our state has a high percentage of students from low-income and single parent families. But moves like Superintendent Paine’s will further convince the outside world we don’t care about education.

World history and civics are critically needed for high school students. Our young adults need to know about the world. Thomas Jefferson believed the purpose of education was to train people for citizenship. For heaven’s sake, our county and one of our two high schools (Jefferson High School) are both named after Jefferson.

Many years ago, U.S. Senator Robert Byrd bemoaned the lack of history being taught in American high schools. In one of his most memorable lines, he said “and in those few places where history is actually taught, it is often mired in that curricular swamp known as ‘social studies.'” Superintendent Paine appears to want to lead us back into the swamp.

For many years, I worked hard to get a full year of civics required for high school graduation. Many educational administrators fought me, saying things like “the only people who need to know civics are those who want to work for the government.” That reaction astounded me, but I finally succeeded in getting civics required. Now, it appears we might backslide.

I dearly hope the State Board of Education will turn down this awful idea.