Legislative mandate on teaching TN history gets 11th hour revival

In the windup of the legislative session, the House and Senate unanimously voted to require teaching of a semester on Tennessee history in public schools, a quick action that followed a long-running debate in and out of the legislative hallways.

 Chalkbeat Tennessee reports the move comes just as the state is poised to poised to adopt new social studies standards that include fewer state-specific history facts.

But the bill (HB1169, as amended and approved) doesn’t specify when the semester of Tennessee history teaching will occur and how it would bit into teaching of other subjects.

House sponsor Rep. Art Swann, R-Maryville, told Chalkbeat he plans to use the coming months to determine how to fit a Tennessee history requirement into students’ jam-packed schedules. The Senate sponsor is Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin. There will likely be a followup bill next year.

The Senate had earlier passed a bill (SB631) requiring that all students take a semester of state-specific history between grades 4 and 8. But a House education committee balked and the idea appeared dead until the new proposal “emerged in the 11th hour of the legislature, soon after the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards for Tennessee in the first of two votes.”

Those standards, which were developed during an intensive year-long review, are about 14 percent shorter than the current set — a response to teachers who want to go more in-depth with their students. But the reduction comes at the expense of some Tennessee history such as the Chickamauga Indians, “Roots” author Alex Haley, and the New Madrid earthquakes.

The proposed standards would continue Tennessee’s practice of “embedding” state-specific facts across all grades and units, instead of requiring a separate unit or course, something Tennessee hasn’t done for nearly two decades.

The addition of a new course would require new standards, as well as an update to school schedules statewide.

“My argument all along has been it’s all a matter of priority,” Swann said. “All of the things they’ve got is important, but there are few things that are as important as Tennessee history, where kids learn who they are and where they’re from.”

… “We do not want to place additional burdens on our teachers, but we do want our students to be aware of Tennessee history going forward,” Haile said.

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