With regard to public schools, there was much to be dismayed about in 2017, but much that was positive as well. The positive stuff usually slid under the radar, so let’s take a backward look at 2017 and see what we can feel good about.
Teaching the Bible as History and Literature
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed a Bill into law that allows Kentucky public schools to teach courses on the Bible. The law does not force schools to teach the Bible, but rather gives schools the option of providing a Bible literacy elective course for students to voluntarily study. The law permits students to learn the role the Bible played in the history of western culture. As one saying goes, it will be “teaching, not preaching.” Similar legislation has passed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Texas House Bill 1287, if passed, will permit public schools to offer “elective courses on the bible’s Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament and their impact on the history and literature of western civilization.”
Other similar bills are waiting action in Missouri, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
Evolution and Climate Change
Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma and South Dakota introduced bills that would protect teachers who “teach the controversy” on global warming and evolution as long as it is not taught from a religious standpoint. (The bills were defeated in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.) Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee have already passed such laws. In mid-November two bills were pre-filed in Florida that would require “controversial theories and concepts” to be taught in a “factual, objective, and balanced manner.” In Texas similar legislation died in committee when a legislative deadline passed without action on the bill.
Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education under President Trump, was criticized in an early 2017 propublica.org article. It read:
Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick as secretary of education, has funded groups that champion “intelligent design,” a sophisticated outgrowth of creationism. Science educators worry that she could use her bully pulpit to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools.
The article mentioned a question posed to DeVos asking if she would promote “junk science.” She responded that she supports allowing “students to exercise critical thinking.”
Florida Citizens Alliance, a group that states it is motivated because: “Our establishment education system is failing America’s students academically, civically and morally. Florida children are being indoctrinated in a public-school system that undermines their individual rights and destroys our founding principles and family values.” Their goal is to improve K-12 education in Florida. Their efforts, along with others, have resulted in many improvements, the latest of which is a new state law that makes it easier for Florida residents to challenge books used in public schools. It could get overhauled next year so those who dislike certain texts could also suggest replacements they find more appropriate. Read more.
Another organization, Truth in Textbooks (TIT), based in Texas, has almost 200 volunteer citizen reviewers of social studies textbooks. It hopes to have 500 in the near future. It will assist twenty-two states with textbook review and selection for grades K-12. In past reviews, TIT has been able to identify a massive number of factual errors, many of which the publishers corrected after being notified of them. One publisher was discarded from the acceptable list when it did not respond to TIT’s requests for changes.
TIT says in its Mission Statement its goal is:
To provide the children of America the most accurate and informative social studies books possible.
To accomplish this mission TNT has set these goals:
- 100% accuracy in identifying errors and corrections
Identify misstatements of fact, notable omissions, imbalances and/or opinions disguised as facts
- Provide the correct information based upon scholarly, recognizable references and research
- Provide feedback to public officials and publishers
Inform the public of our findings
- Recruit, select, train 300-500 citizen volunteers to be certified social studies textbook reviewers. [Want to be a reviewer?]
- Provide a website for others to post reviews of social studies textbooks in order to have a single depository of these reviews
There are a lot more positive educational advances that occurred in 2017 and more still developing, but for now thank God there are people who take the instruction of our kids seriously. If you have the time and inclination, I’m sure your help will be appreciated. If any of you know of other positive happenings in your public school, please let all of us know.