Report Helps Bring Historical
Texts Back to Ohio Schools
While Ohio’s Vinton County School District is busy protecting its federal funding from the supposed risks of using a popular Bible History and Literature curriculum, the state is working to return the United States’ foundational documents to public schools.
A new Ohio law requires students in grades 4-12 to study “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.”
The new law marks an important change in the way American history is taught in the state of Ohio. A February report by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that Ohio and 27 other states deserve D or F grades for their teaching of U.S. history:
Ohio’s standards offer, at best, an exceedingly broad and basic outline of U.S. history. Huge swaths of history are covered in a few brief strokes, and specific events and people are all but absent. . . . Unfortunately, the state does not seem to consider substantive historical content to be essential, since very little is included.
The law, which aims to correct such inadequacies, was not passed without opposition. An editorial in the Columbus Dispatch opined on December 19, 2011:
Rep. Debbie Phillips of Athens is right that the bill strays into micromanagement, by mandating, for example, that by July 1, 2014, at least 25 percent of questions on new end-of-course exams for high-school American history and government classes relate to the documents. That’s rather technical territory for lawmakers.
Other concerns are less valid, in some cases making the sponsor’s point. Rep. Clayton Luckie, D-Dayton, worried that teaching only the documents would leave out important concepts, such as the fact that slaves originally were counted as three-fifths of a human being or that women couldn’t vote at first.
Is Luckie unaware that the three-fifths compromise, and all it implies about American slavery, is in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 2)? Perhaps the need for better history education is more dire than anyone thought.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation’s report also found that U.S. history standards suffer from a left-leaning bias, and have for decades. Rep. John Adams, R-Sydney, said the Fordham report was an important motivator behind the new law.
“Would not one better understand social problems, economics, foreign affairs . . . if they first had a grounding in the foundation of this country’s origins through the study of these founding documents?” he asked before the law was passed 62-31.