“Would not one better understand social problems, economics, foreign affairs … if they first had a grounding in the foundation of this country’s origins through the study of these founding documents?” Ohio state Rep. John Adams, R-Sidney, asked his colleagues last year.
Of course one would be, most said.
And so eventually Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 165 into law and now all Ohio high school students must study the original texts of:
- The Declaration of Independence;
- The Northwest Ordinance;
- The Constitution of the United States (with an emphasis on the Bill of Rights); and
- The Ohio Constitution.
(Which Ohio Constitution, you ask? The 1851 version, of course!)
(Raise your hand if you didn’t know Ohio had more than one Constitution. Ok, now put it down and keep reading.)
The change takes effect starting with students who enter ninth grade this month.
Beyond changes to what students study in the classroom, the law also calls for changing the requirements for what Ohio students are expected to learn and be tested on specifically to include those four documents. (Here’s the Ohio Department of Education’s FAQ on the changes.)
In support of the changes, lawmakers cited a 2011 paper from the Fordham Foundation critical of Ohio’s expectations for what students learn about American history. But that report didn’t actually suggest that requiring high schoolers to read The Four Documents would fix things.
Instead, the report criticizes the “lack of detail” in what Ohio students are expected to learn about American history, particularly in elementary schools.
Many teachers already teach American historical documents, including these Big Four. The major difference is that now students must grapple with the originals rather than excerpts or bulleted summaries.
Still, Ohio lawmakers are not alone in their desire to make very specific changes to state curricula every once in a while. Stanford University professor emeritus Michael Kirst told Education Week last year that lawmakers in many states have long tried to wade into the curriculum:
“They usually insert very narrow things that are disconnected from the broader flow of the curriculum,” Mr. Kirst said of state legislators. “[The measures] pile up over the years and lead to somewhat of a disjointed process.”
What important American document was signed on July 4, 1776?