The Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy — a cross-ideological framework developed with input from 300 academics, historians, political scientists, K-12 educators, district and state administrators, civics providers, students and others nationwide — aims to bridge longstanding ideological divides around the teaching of social studies and history, according to The Hechinger Report.
Paul Carrese, a conservative leaning professor of civic thought and leadership at Arizona State University who is among the roadmap's key contributors, told The Hechinger Report political polarization has hurt civics and history education, making them a "second-tier subject" because school boards and school leaders don't want to deal with backlash. This, in turn, has led schools to scale back time spent on these topics and produce graduates who can't work through differing viewpoints.
Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, the roadmap tries to avoid any controversial topics and doesn't set in place specific standards or curricula, recommending instead that focus be placed on inquiry and depth over breadth of content.
The roadmap provides seven themes for organizing social studies curriculum, ranging from civic participation to institutional and social transformation, with accompanying overarching thematic questions and grade-based concepts. It also presents five design challenges to support the crafting of social studies curricula.
The roadmap launched in March with six former U.S. secretaries of education from the administrations of Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama penning a joint op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, hailing the project as a step in the right the direction toward reuniting the nation. The education leaders also urged districts to embrace instruction on difficult historical topics like slavery, segregation, racism, indigenous removals and Japanese-American internments during World War II.
This month, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill along party lines prohibiting schools from teaching critical race theory, an area of legal scholarship that contends, in part, that race is a social construct systemically woven into the legal system and other institutions in a way that creates a caste system limiting people of color to the bottom tiers. Though educators would still be allowed to teach about historical events, it would prevent them from applying what legislators referred to as the “blame game” in such lessons.
History textbooks are also under increasing scrutiny amid growing awareness of racial biases. Some educators advocate ridding classrooms of them entirely, since many uncomfortable details of history are left out. Meanwhile, historians rarely agree on the interpretation of events, while state standards are established by legislators. A New York Times analysis, for instance, showed large states like California and Texas have different versions of the same textbooks.
Juneteenth is among examples cited in regard to the lack of detail some textbooks contain. Though the date is recognized as a state holiday or day of observance in many states, the history behind it isn’t taught in most schools.