Social studies education is important because it helps young people make sense of the world around them, become responsible citizens and participate civilly in our democratic society.

More than any other subject in the public schools, social studies curriculum is affected by current events, issues and trends.

Unfortunately, that means it can get real political.

Controversy does arise in other subjects, like birth control in health education and the loss of cursive writing instruction, but social studies (which includes history) curriculum stirs the most debate and grabs the most headlines.

The N.C. public schools’ new social studies standards, approved in a 7-5 vote last month by the State Board of Education, culminated two years of ideological debate over racial and ethnic issues. Public education leaders nationwide say debate over the way social studies standards address these types of issues is more intense than ever.

North Carolina’s new standards will be implemented at the start of the 2021-22 school year. The most substantial changes, which include new courses and graduation requirements, are in high school.

Dr. Donna Cotton, chief academic officer for the Wilkes County Schools, stated during the March 1 school board meeting that only small changes were made in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Cotton said changes in ninth- through 12th-grade standards are substantial enough to justify in-house training for high school social studies teachers.

Currently, students must take four social studies classes to graduate from high school in North Carolina: “World History,” “American History I,” “American History II” and “American History: Founding Principles, Civics and Economics.”

Students will again need four social studies classes to graduate starting next year, but they will be “World History,” “American History,” “Founding Principles of the United States of America and North Carolina: Civic Literacy” and “Economics and

Personal Finance.”

Students who are freshmen this year must take the world history class and personal finance class to graduate, but they can take the current or new civics courses and the new U.S. history course or one of the two current ones.

Other students who started high school before the 2021-22 school year will remain subject to social studies course requirements in effect now.

The new courses and standards resulted from passage of House Bill 924 in 2019. Among other things, this bill mandated that the State Board of Education require a full credit course in high school with instructions on economic principles, personal financial literacy and planning and paying for postsecondary education.

House Bill 924 also had a requirement that resulted in the course, “Founding Principles of the United States of America and North Carolina: Civic Literacy.”

Cotton said high school students can take the required social studies courses in any order, but the N.C. Department of Public Instruction strongly recommends starting with “World History.”

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