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GOP bill to change civics curriculum stalls in committee

Charlie Megginson Education, Government, Headlines

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A Republican-backed measure that would require Delaware schools to teach that communism and totalitarianism conflict with freedom and democracy was shot down by the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 206, sponsored by Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, would have required school districts and charter schools to provide instruction in comparative political ideology for students in tenth grade.

The bill specifically requires instruction to “include a comparative discussion of political ideologies, including communism and totalitarianism, which conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.”

Having not been released from committee, the bill is unlikely to ever be heard by the whole Senate — let alone become law.

Richardson told the committee that he thinks “there needs to be more emphasis put on this particular topic because I think it’s important to the survival of our nation as a democracy.”

But Sen. Dave Sokola, D-Newark, and Secretary of Education Mark Holodick say that comparative political ideology is already a component of the state’s required social studies curriculum. 

“I just feel that these are all things that are already in the curriculum,” Sokola said. “I have no opposition to them because they’re already there.”

Sokola noted some key differences between what the bill would require and what currently exists within the curriculum.

“There’s a couple of differences,” he said. “It says … that a school district shall provide the instruction in comparative political ideology in grade 10. We actually have that standard in grade 9 and it can continue on 9 through 12.”

Holodick, a former social studies teacher, said he approaches the bill from a pragmatic position.

The intent of the bill, he said, “is to ensure this is happening” and “based on the documentation that the Department [of Education] has provided, along with my experiences as an educator, the good news is for Sen. Richardson and everyone in this conversation, I believe, is that it is happening.”

Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Greenville, said she fears that the bill’s language is biased toward one political theory and that “there’s an aspect of indoctrination” to the measure. 

“It’s very much skewed towards ‘there’s one system, it’s the best system, it’s the only system we should believe in,’ and that’s something that while I may subscribe to that system and feel very proud of it, I know that there’s definitely people who would look at our system and find some flaws,” Sturgeon said.

She said that a students’ ability to think critically about the American political system is important because, “if we don’t look at the flaws within our own system, then we can’t look at other systems that may have some serious flaws.” 

Michael Feldman, social studies education associate at the Department of Education, said that comparative political ideology is not only already a component of the state’s civics curriculum, but also that the economic aspects of communism and totalitarianism are required elements of the economics curriculum. 

“In the resources that are available through the social studies curriculum, students weigh the costs and benefits of different public policy decisions,” Feldman said. “They place those public policy decisions along a continuum of command economies, market economies and absolute authority versus the free market.”

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