One lawmaker is attempting to change the way students learn American history by requiring all Maryland public schools to include more history lessons on racial, ethnic and other groups in America whose stories often are left untold.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) presented a bill to the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday that would require the Maryland State Board of Education to develop content standards for American history courses to include the history of African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Americans, as well as women and other groups to be determined by the state board.
Wilson, chair of the Economic Matters Committee, said he was inspired to sponsor the legislation after his middle-school-aged daughter asked him why she knew how many Jewish people died in the Holocaust but did not know the number of slaves who died in the Atlantic slave trade or how many Asian Americans died while working on railroads.
“Contributions and suffering minorities and women have been long overlooked in our history books, except for sometimes those special months,” Wilson said. “Black history, Hispanic history, women’s history — it’s American history and should taught consistently in our schools.”
“There’s an emergency in this country — we’re failing to teach facts,” he said.
Under Wilson’s bill, each local board of education would have to develop curriculum guides based on the new American history content standards set by the state, and each public school would have to change their history curricula to include contributions of other ethnic groups by the start of the 2023-2024 school year.
Wilson clarified that his bill was not “a critical race theory bill.” Critical race theory refers to the concept, first used in higher education, that views racism as ingrained in law and institutions. But critical race theory has turned into a political target for conservatives, as Republican state legislatures began introducing bills to ban it in public schools.
Wilson introduced a similar bill last year that would have required the State Board of Education to create statewide standards for teaching Black history to public school students — such as the history of African people before slavery, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, contributions of Black people in various aspects of society, and the social injustice and police brutality that Black Americans face. But the bill did not move out of committee.
Finley Slenker, who described herself as a student interested in history, told the committee that she repeatedly has noticed gaps in how American history is taught, which usually leaves out those who have faced discrimination and focuses on “the white perspective of our history.”
“The history of so many has been pushed aside in the education system to make learning history more comfortable and appealing to the white population,” she said. “We need to create change and improve curriculum for U.S. history in schools.”
Wilson highlighted the hypocrisy of those who have pushed back against adding ethnic history elements to American history classes due to discomfort, as most history curricula include other troubling events such as the Holocaust and the World Trade Center bombings.
Other states have mandated that public school students are taught about other racial and ethnic groups’ roles throughout American history. Last fall, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that requires all public high school students to take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate.
As the student population grows more diverse in Maryland, it becomes increasingly important for the state school curricula to reflect that diversity, Cheryl Bost, the president of Maryland State Education Association, said in an interview. Bost said educators support Wilson’s bill because they support “truth and honesty in education.”
However, she said MSEA believes that local school systems should set the curriculum from standards set by the state. The bill requires the county board of education in collaboration with the local school system to develop curricula.