Legislature Wastes No Time Picking Curriculum Fight With TN Governor

The history curriculum legislation also mandates regular compliance reports to the commissioner of education, made available to the public. Credit: The COM Library via Flickr

Current state law already “recommends” the teaching of foundational documents, which also include the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address. The history curriculum legislation “requires” teachers to go over those documents and also mandates regular compliance reports to the commissioner of education, made available to the public. Credit: The COM Library via Flickr

Tennessee education officials have been unable to scuttle a push for more teaching about the Constitution in public schools. It’s the first of what is expected to be a series of legislative fights over curriculum this year.

One of the year’s first bills to pass the full state Senate did so over the objections of Governor Bill Haslam’s administration. Debate begins in the House this week, and the sponsor says he plans to press on, despite getting a visit from Haslam’s legislative liaisons and a written letter outlining the administration’s formal objections to the bill.

“It clearly just says to teach the foundational documents, and I don’t see that being a problem or an issue,” says state Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville).

No one in the state Senate saw a big problem either. The bill passed without any “no” votes, though state Sen. Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) did abstain after asking why the curriculum change was necessary.

The legislation does slightly more than its sponsors say in public. It also mandates the teaching of Tennessee history, which is currently just a recommendation. And perhaps more importantly, the proposal erases current guidelines making sure history textbooks “portray the full range of diversity and achievement of racial and ethnic minorities.” (TCA § 49-6-2202)

Instead, the proposal requires more instruction on the the “success of the United States as a leader in the age of industry, with emphasis on the political and cultural elements that distinguished America in this era from other nations, past and contemporary.”

A statement from the Tennessee Education Department says curriculum issues should be left to boards of education.

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