The Class of 2016 will be the first to benefit from two state laws — one will improve their understanding of government and their role as citizens; the other will improve their knowledge of local indigenous, or Native American, history and governance.
HB 2132, approved by the Legislature in 2009, requires high school seniors graduating in 2016 and thereafter to take an additional semester of social studies to study the organization and procedures of federal, state, and local government; rights and responsibilities of citizens addressed in the state and federal Constitutions; current issues at each level of government; and elections, ballot measures, initiatives, and referenda.
SB 5433, approved by the Legislature this year, requires schools to use the curriculum, “Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State,” which is available at no cost to school districts. “Since Time Immemorial,” developed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and indigenous nations in Washington, seeks to improve student knowledge of indigenous history and culture; foster cross-cultural respect and understanding; and bolster cultural sensitivity in all students.
It also seeks to give more balance to history instruction, which has often ignored the state’s indigenous history or perpetuated stereotypes.
State Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, and other supporters of SB 5433 say Native students will be more engaged in education. There will be more understanding and relationship-building between people of different cultures. And students who will go on to become leaders in their communities will understand sovereignty and the authority of the Tribes with which they will interact. (Kitsap County is within the historical territory of the Suquamish Tribe and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.)
“Since Time Immemorial” is designed so teachers can begin where they are most comfortable in their ability to teach the subject. The website provides curriculum, resources, expected outcomes, and teacher-support documents and videos.
These bills were necessary. “Two-thirds of our nation’s 12th-graders scored below proficient on the last national civics assessment, and fewer than 10 percent could list two ways that a democracy benefits from citizen participation,” according to HB 2132 in 2009. “A healthy democracy depends on the participation of citizens. But participation is learned behavior, and in recent years civic learning has been pushed aside.”
Regarding student understanding of Native history and governance: “Since Time Immemorial” has been available for free to school districts since 2004, when a bill “encouraging” its instruction was approved. But as late as December 2014, McCoy estimated that only 30 percent of school districts in Washington State had chosen to use the curriculum.
Preparation for citizenship is as important as preparation for college and a career. Students, and our communities, will benefit from these curricula.