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Bench Memos

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Ohio Schools’ Historical Texts Requirement



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Ohio governor John Kasich signed a bill last week requiring that Ohio schools teach students in grades 4–12 “the original texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, the Constitution of the United States and its amendments, with emphasis on the Bill of Rights, and the Ohio Constitution, and their original context.” Twenty percent of an end-of-course government exam would have to relate to those texts.

Ohio is not the only state that requires students to learn specific material. California last year enacted a law last year that requires social studies classes “to include a study of the role and contributions of . . . [LGBT] Americans, persons with disabilities, and members of other cultural groups, to the development of California and the United States.” The law simultaneously disallows “any instructional materials” that reflect poorly on this group on the basis of their identify, including “any sectarian or denominational doctrine or propaganda contrary to law.”

I have to wonder, which is the better element for states to require in their curricula? A Columbus Dispatch editorial in December put it best, saying: “A clear understanding of the Constitution and other documents is vital if children are to grow into effective citizens and uphold the values that distinguished the American experiment: limits on government power, to prevent it from crushing individual liberties; and a reverence for civil rights that protect individuals from a majority with which they might not agree.” Ohio’s legislature should be commended for this positive step, and other states should consider similar legislation in the future.



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