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Nebraska Educators Debate American Exceptionalism

By Todd Starnes

A set of standards that will determine what Nebraska school children will learn about American history is causing controversy after an initial draft left out the Founding Fathers – and another promoted cultural equivalency over American exceptionalism.

The debate focuses on drafts of Nebraska’s social studies standards. Every school district in the state must adopt the standards or enact their own of equal or greater rigor, Omaha.com reported.

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An early draft has already been rewritten after it excluded George Washington and Benjamin Franklin – along with other Founding Fathers and historical dates.

And while Nebraska Board of Education member John Sieler is glad to see the Founding Fathers restored to the standards, he said there are other serious problems. He said the standards teach global warming as fact, promote cultural equivalency and fail to promote American exceptionalism.  

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“We need to specifically reject this concept that all ideas are equal or all cultures are equal,” Sieler told Fox News Radio. “All cultures are not equal. All ideas are not equal and we need to state that in a positive manner instead of glossing over this and having some ‘Kumbaya let’s all get along, everybody’s wonderful’ feeling.”

Sieler said he’s received at least 30 emails from constituents who are upset that the draft process was not open to the public. Among the chiefs concers — no mention of American exceptionalism.

“I strongly believe in American exceptionalism,” he said.

Instead the draft instructs schools to make sure high school students can “analyze and evaluate the impact of people, events and symbols upon history in the United States and abroad,” Omaha.com reported. It also called on students to explore history from multiple perspectives.

Sieler said the state needs to adopt a specific statement recognizing American exceptionalism.

“That is the key to the whole thing,” he said. “We need to teach that we are the good guys. That doesn’t mean we have to hide some of the things that we are not proud of as a nation. We’ve made some mistakes but we are on the right course. We’re not out to conquer countries and enslave people.”

Donlynn Rice, the state’s administrator of curriculum, instruction and innovation, stressed that the draft is “not a completed document.”

“Certainly the standards are very strong in the fact that America is a great country,” she told Fox News Radio. “What exact terms we use remains to be seen as we work with the draft.”

Rice said she was not sure if the term “American exceptionalism” is in the draft.

“We’re talking about the importance of understanding different cultures,” she said. “We certainly want students to be aware there are many different cultures both in our country and across the world.”

Rice said they are listening to public input and used the re-inclusion of the historical figures to illustrate that point.

“It was a bit premature for people to get so concerned that they weren’t going to be there when in fact they were looking at a very, very early draft of the standards,” she said.

Sieler also expressed concern about how capitalism and free market enterprise are conveyed in the standards.

“We need to say free market enterprise is good,” he said. “Socialism is bad. To me, it’s black and white.

He also said the standards teach global warming as fact instead of a theory and incorrectly used the terms democracy and republic.

“We are a representative government,” he said. “We don’t have direct democracy and there’s a big difference.”

Sieler also said the standards promoting “global government.”

“The U.S. Constitution does not recognize a global government,” he said. “We recognize the government of the United States.”

Rice said the standards are meant to focus on what students should know and be able to do.

“We don’t teach beliefs in our standards,” she said. ‘We teach the content, knowledge and the skills.”

But Sieler said it’s necessary to know and learn some facts before you can talk about concepts.

“How can you discuss something like the Civil War if you don’t know who Abraham Lincoln is?” he wondered.

Rice said the draft will be in development for several more months – and welcomed the heated discussions on the document.

“I think it’s wonderful that people are interested,” she said. “Of all the content areas, social studies is citizenship in action. Social studies is about our history and our government. It’s really an area we live every day. The fact that people are interested and people are passionate is a great thing.”

Sieler said he worries that political correctness might be behind some of the controversy.

“The other side would say I’m being conservatively correct or whatever,” he said. “Maybe I am. But I think we need to teach the right standards.”

Todd Starnes is the author of “Dispatches From Bitter America.” The book is endorsed by Sarah Palin, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity. Click here to get your copy.