MOSES LAKE – Alex Boggs is concerned about what his children are learning.
The Moses Lake man has two children attending Moses Lake High School. His son is a senior and his daughter is in ninth grade. One day he looked at his daughter’s Washington state history book, “The Washington Journey,” and found a section that disturbed him.
The page, toward the back of the book, which drew his attention, lists bullet points of the rights covered for each amendment. For example the book lists the First Amendment as:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of assembly
- Right to petition the government
The rest of the page follows a similar pattern of giving a basic description of the right guaranteed in the amendment.
The only exception is the Second Amendment. The wording, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” was changed to “Right to bear arms: You can own guns for hunting and other legal activities.”
“The Second Amendment … is the only one they had to explain what it meant,” he said. “It was the only one that had any (explanation.)”
With the perennial arguments around gun control, Boggs found the explanation disturbing.
“To me, they’re isolating that one amendment for a reason,” he said. “Well there are many reasons for that, but the Second Amendment has absolutely zero to do with hunting.”
Boggs had another concern about the book, pointing out it is supposed to be geared toward a seventh grade audience, but it’s being taught in ninth grade.
Boggs took his concerns to the Moses Lake school board to ask where the book came from, why it was being taught in high school and what his child was learning.
Superintendent Michelle Price said someone spoke at a community forum about the issue, but didn’t give his name or any contact information.
Linda McKay, the district’s executive director of teaching and learning, explained the book is just one resource teachers use when teaching state history.
“We don’t teach it starting on page 1 and going through page 250. We look at the book and say, ‘OK what do my students need to know about Washington state history and where are those resources in the book?’” she said.
Educators also consider what type of questions the students might have, what items aren’t included in the book and what other items might help students learn about state history. She pointed out the list of the federal Bill of Rights is a means for students to understand how people formed the state constitution.
“It’s not an American government class, so that is taught in 12th grade, at the same time, even though the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are listed in this resource they are a means to understand how the state got its constitution.”
The book won’t be the last time students are shown the federal bill of rights either, McKay explained. The state requires students to pass a civics class which focuses more on the structure of the Constitution and the government.
McKay said the section on the federal Bill of Rights is geared at a mixed audience.
“This book is written for a grade span of students between seventh and ninth grade, (which is) very different than your senior class which has taken American government and civics,” she said. “As you can imagine for a middle schooler or even a ninth grader, those words, bear arms, what do they mean?”
McKay pointed out the book does contain a section on the state’s constitution’s right to bear arms, which states, “An individual has the right to bear arms in defense of himself or the state. The constitution, however, does not allow individuals or corporations to organize or maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
The book version is slightly different than the one listed by the Washington State Legislature.
Article I: Declaration of Rights – Section 24 of the state constitution reads: “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself, or the state, shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.”
Charlene Kerwin, the editorial director for education at Gibbs Smith Education, the publisher of “The Washington Journey,” wasn’t sure why the bullet point on the Second Amendment was written the way it was or the change to the state consitution.
“We try to avoid controversy and try to avoid the appearance that we’re giving an opinion,” she said.
The answer for how a book sold as a seventh-grade textbook ends up being taught in the ninth grade revolves around the relative lack of state history textbooks and state graduation requirements, McKay said.
The textbook, chosen by a team of high school and middle school social studies teachers, is one of a few which deal with Washington state history. A Google search turned up two publishers with Washington state history books, one of them being Gibbs Smith Education.
McKay explained the district starts with state standards when it starts the process of selecting a textbook. The district starts by looking at how its resources, including the textbook, help it meet the standards.
“(The state) doesn’t indicate to us what textbook to use. They do say, ‘These are the learning standards that students should learn in math and English and social studies at specific grade levels,’ or it might be, ‘What are the graduation requirements?’” she said.
The state standards provides the district a goal for what students should know by the time they graduate, but how to get there is up to district, McKay said.
“The curriculum is the means to teach those standards,” she said. “We have to show that students in Washington State have taken Washington State history.”
The state lists it as a requirement for seventh grade students, but since it’s a requirement to graduate, the district has kept it as a ninth grade course, McKay said.
The book was selected by a team of high school and middle school social studies teachers. They analyze the book and other resources based on what students need to know and how well the resources meet the standards.
“(They know) there is not a single book out there that’s going to cover everything perfectly and exactly,” she said.
Boggs also had concerns about the book being linked to the state’s Common Core curriculum.
The curriculum is a state-led effort, organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, to develop a single set of standards for reading, writing and math for students across the country, according to the initiative’s website.
McKay explained while reading the textbook may be included in meeting the Common Core standards, teaching state history isn’t. The requirement pre-dates the creation of the Common Core standards by years.