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House committee approves Teaching American Principles Act

By Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort, KY - A Senate bill seeking to improve civics education in public schools is one step closer to becoming law.

The House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 138, or the Teaching American Principles Act, on Tuesday.

"The purpose of this bill is to preserve the alignment of middle and high school standards with American principles of equality, freedom and personal agency," said Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, the bill's primary sponsor.

Under SB 138, public schools would have to provide instruction in social studies that aligns with a list of concepts such as "all individuals are created equal" and "Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law," among several others.

It also requires instruction to be "within the range of knowledge, understanding, age, and maturity of the students receiving the instruction."

Another provision of SB 138 would provide a list of documents for the Kentucky Department of Education to incorporate into grade-level appropriate academic standards for middle and high school social studies classes.

Those documents include, "The Mayflower Compact," the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, the "Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, "A Time for Choosing" by Ronald Reagan and more.

Wise said SB 138 is necessary because less than 25% of U.S. students graduating high school can pass a U.S. civics or citizenship examination.

"We are facing a civics crisis in not just the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but the United States," Wise added. "I do not blame the teachers for that, but I look at things that get cut many times from our standards and it is civics education."

Kate Miller with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky was one of many to testify against SB 138 during the committee meeting. She was joined by students who also spoke against the bill.

"Senate Bill 138 first serves as a way to censor speech," Miller said. "It is a government censorship bill. There's a long history of these types of bills, and we should remember that First Amendment rights do not stop for teachers or students at the schoolhouse gate."

During Wise's testimony, he said the intention of SB 138 is not to dictate what can and cannot be said in the classroom.

"There is nothing in the bill that tells an educator what you can or cannot teach. It does not discipline teachers," Wise said. "It does not tell a student what you can and cannot say. It simply looks at the foundations of our country and allows educators to go back and use those documents."

During discussion of the bill, Rep. Attica Scott, D- Louisville, said she has an issue with the bill's "erasure of women" in the core documents list. She also questioned language in the bill regarding the teaching of slavery, the Civil War and racial segregation and discrimination. In explaining her "no" vote, Scott expressed concerns about censorship.

"I just can't vote for something that takes away the voice of so many people that I represent back home in District 41," she said.

Rep. Myron Dossett, R-Pembroke, spoke in favor of SB 138 while explaining his "yes" vote. He mentioned his granddaughter and conversations they have about American History.

"Things that I have taught her about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, things that I have brought into her mind on this to let her know that equality does exist in this nation," Dossett said. "Maybe in some instances we could do better, but that we have learned from our past and that she has a chance of a very good life."

SB 138 will now go before the full House for consideration.

This story was posted on 2022-03-22 13:34:53
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Sen. Wise testifying on Senate Bill 138

2022-03-22 - Frankfort, KY - Photo courtesy LRC.
Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, testifying on Senate Bill 138, the Teaching American Principles Act, before the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

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