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William L. Jahraus, Grafton, N.D., Published February 23 2013

Letter: Study of world history is vital to the ‘edifice’ of an education

The defeat of SB 2155, which would have restored world history as a required course for North Dakota high school graduation, was a disappointment. The removal of this core class by the 2009 Legislature (HB 1400) was not only irresponsible, it was a radical mistake.

According to British philosopher Edmund Burke, “It is with infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down an edifice, which has answered for ages the common purposes of society.” World history is such an edifice. It is the foundation upon which the other social studies courses rest. And now, incredibly, that very foundation is threatened.

Why would a majority of senators vote “no” on this bill? Here are their arguments: The bill is not necessary, some argued, because many schools require world history. It should be noted, however, that several large schools do not, which affects huge numbers of students. Precisely because it is an important core class, all schools should require it. But schools already offer world history, they argued. Such “doublespeak” is misleading and dishonest, suggesting that offering a course is the same as requiring it.

It was also argued that restoring world history would create a “yo-yo” precedent – that it would open the door for other changes in state requirements. (Some of these very legislators began the

“yo-yo” process in 2009 when they “yo-yoed” out world history.) Isn’t it the job of legislators to fix their original mistake of removing the world history requirement?

Even an apparent scare tactic was used in which it was argued that restoring world history would disqualify current students from North Dakota scholarships. It would not, obviously, since the new requirement for world history would be phased in and would not affect current high school students.

Where do we go from here? Parents, school boards, school officials and social studies teachers must guarantee that world history is not only “offered” but “required.” It’s too important to be left out – for any student. It should not be an elective for just a few. Those who do not go to college may never have an opportunity to take it again. Will they be ready to face the hyper-connected, “flat” world without any knowledge of world history?

The American philosopher George Santayana once wrote: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s heed Santayana’s advice and make sure that all of our students take world history. It’s in their best interest (and our democracy’s) to do so.


Jahraus is a high school history teacher.