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Renewing civics education in Emmett School District

Renewing civics education in Emmett School District

Anna Miller
September 20, 2021

Families in the Emmett School District are taking advantage of an education alternative to revive America’s lost tradition of civics education. 

Although the Idaho State Board of Education sets standards for curriculum adoption and recommends certain curriculum resources, school districts have their own curriculum review process. Parents have the opportunity to provide public comment, but they do not ultimately choose the curriculum taught to their child in public school. However, an alternative education option passed in the 2021 legislative session, known as Innovation Classrooms, is giving parents more agency over the curriculum taught to their children. 

Innovation Classrooms, developed by Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett), allows the parents of a group of at least 24 students to adopt an alternative curriculum of their choice and use it in an independent classroom led by a teacher who has received approval from both parents and district officials. 

Recently, 76 Emmett students and parents petitioned the school district to start an Innovation Classroom that would adopt the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum, a program focused on an honest representation of civics and the American founding. 

Emmett parents are rightly concerned about the teaching of America’s founding and history in public schools. Many Idaho classrooms are replacing civics with political activism. For example, West Ada schools have encouraged U.S. history teachers to use Howard Zinn’s “A People's History.” Zinn teaches American history as a series of class struggles and oppression and recommends the socialism of Marx and Engels as a cure.

The Zinn Education Project even collected thousands of signatures from teachers nationwide pledging to violate state laws that ban critical race theory in public schools, including 14 signatures from Idaho teachers. Similarly, the 1619 Project is being implemented across the country and in Idaho school districts, including Boise. The poor scholarship of Howard Zinn and the 1619 project has been repeatedly debunked, but their popularity in schools perseveres. 

Emmett parents are setting an example for other parents by utilizing Innovation Classrooms to provide students with an alternative to politicized history. The Hillsdale curriculum is designed for students to learn “American history from the colonies through the Civil War, at four separate times during their K-12 years, each time increasing in depth.” 

Rather than hide America’s flaws, the curriculum aims to recover a shared identity rooted in America’s founding principles, which could lead to a more united country. For example, the curriculum builds on the basic truth, “That although the United States of America is by no means perfect, it is unprecedented in the annals of human history for the extraordinary degrees of freedom, peace, and prosperity available to its people and to those who immigrate to her shores.”

Independence for teachers is central to the curriculum's design. It helps teachers to plan and teach a given topic and recommends resources, stories, and questions to ask students. However, the curriculum ultimately defers completely to the knowledge, creativity, and love teachers possess. 

In fact, the curriculum was made by professors and teachers, not activists or bureaucrats. It uses primary sources and factual documents, not the latest political narrative. 

The Emmett school board has agreed to consider the Hillsdale curriculum in its review process, which could take a year to be approved. Of course, parents do not have to wait for government officials to act before conveying the purpose, nature, and contours of our constitutional republic to their children. Homeschool and private school families can begin reviving true civics education at once. 

As one Emmett parent said, “Never have so many Americans known so little about their founding. We need to teach America’s founding principles to our kids so we can maintain them and enjoy the blessings of freedom.” 

Other families could follow the lead of Emmett parents and students by starting an Innovation Classroom or choosing another education option that offers a rich civics education preparing students for mature political life. 

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