Senators pass & praise teaching TN history as a separate course

News release from Senate Republican Caucus

NASHVILLE, April 25, 2017 — The Senate unanimously approved a bill Monday evening that would require Tennessee’s public schools to go back to teaching at least one full semester of Tennessee history. Senate Bill 631, sponsored by Deputy Speaker Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), is named for the late Senator Douglas Henry, who was a great devotee of Tennessee history and who devoted much of his public life to its cause.

As amended, the semester of Tennessee history would be carved out between grades 4 and 8–a detail to be worked out by the Tennessee Board of Education and local school systems.

The bill complements a system under which the subject of Tennessee history is presently “embedded” into U.S. history classes in grades 4, 5, 8 and 11. The embedded system, however, is piecemeal and does not call for the “story” of Tennessee to be taught.

“This legislation ensures Tennessee students learn the story of Tennessee history and the best way to do this is for it to be taught as a course,” said Sen. Haile “Then the embedding of facts in U.S. history and world history will have more meaning.”

“We intend to work with the Department of Education and the Standards Review Committee where it is currently worked into the curriculum to implement this proposal without causing disruption to the process or adding additional burdens on our teachers.”

The bill wasn’t so much debated on the Senate floor as it was praised. Among those who spoke in favor of its passage were Senators Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

“This is long, long overdue,” said Senator Overbey. “Those of us of a certain age took a semester of Tennessee history in the eighth grade, and the other day several of us were talking about this. To a person, everyone in the group said that the half-year of Tennessee history got them excited about their state and got them excited about being engaged in public service. We need to get our students interested both in civics and in Tennessee history.”

“Tennessee has one of the richest histories of any state in the union,” added Senator Kelsey. “It is absolutely necessary that we ensure that all our students understand all the important chapters in our history. These are things that absolutely should be taught. And frankly, I don’t care if some national test company doesn’t have Tennessee history questions on it. This is the right thing to do.”

At their request, all members of the Tennessee Senate were added as sponsors of the bill. The House version of the bill is currently pending action in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Note: The House version of the measure, as approved by an education committee before being placed “behind the budget” — often a way of killing a bill in the waning moments of a legislative session — limits any Tennessee history course to six weeks. The provision was added via amendment at the urging of Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, who voiced concerns that the legislature would be adding a new requirement to an already-full list of teaching topics.

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