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William L. Jahraus, Published March 25 2011

ND high school graduation should require world history

I am disappointed with the North Dakota Legislature, which recently defeated HB 1143 by a very close vote (and after it had received a “do pass” from the House Education Committee). This bill would have corrected a mistake made in the last session when the Legislature mysteriously dropped world history as a required course for high school graduation. Prior to that, world history had been required for many years, withstanding the test of time.

Now more than ever, world history needs to be restored to its rightful place as a required core subject, the foundation for all social studies courses. Recent events in the Middle East and Japan underscore our students’ need to understand our interdependent world. Their counterparts across the globe are studying English and American history to better understand us. (Currently there are more Chinese studying English than there are Americans studying English.) Does it make any sense to eliminate a requirement that provides our future leaders with a basic understanding of their world? Don’t they need to know more about the world, not less?

Apparently, those who opposed HB 1143 did so not because of philosophical differences but because of scheduling difficulties. Is this really an adequate reason to deny North Dakota students the complete education they need and deserve?

American philosopher, George Santayana once wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We know that there are people today who believe that the Holocaust did not happen and that it’s OK to paint swastikas on public buildings and synagogues. If world history isn’t taught, such ignorance and extremism can return and our democracy can be jeopardized.

According to the British philosopher Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The good men and women who sponsored HB 1143 deserve a public thank-you: Legislators Dr. Mark Sanford, Mark Owens, Joyce Kingsbury, David Monson, Robert Kilichowski, Jane Heckaman, and Joe Miller. I also want to thank Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, who presented the case for world history on the House floor.

Using the amendment process, it is not too late for the Legislature to correct a mistake and restore world history as a required subject. Please urge your legislators to do so. It’s in our students’ and our democracy’s best interest.

Jahraus is a Grafton, N.D., high school history teacher.