I watched the House discuss HB81 Monday morning and was struck by what I would call the shallowness of the opposition's argument. In fact, the nature of the dissent may be the best evidence that an Alaska History Curriculum needs to be mandated. From what I could tell, the position against is that the Legislature should not usurp the authority districts have to tailor curriculum to the needs of their communities, and that taking three credits of Alaska history prohibits students from getting into schools like Harvard because they wouldn't have room on their transcripts for classes that ultra-selective schools like to see.
Rep. Crawford described the latter argument as "specious," and it is exactly that. Any student in Alaska who seeks admittance to the Harvards and the Stanfords will find the time to take whatever other class they need. Moreover, having to take Alaska history and deal in-depth with complex economic, political and social issues that are unique to Alaska, will better equip our students to write the kind of powerful essay elite universities expect from well-rounded applicants.
As for the main argument, I believe this is one of those questions that is too important for the state as a whole to let each community (district) decide. The state needs to require Alaska history so that every student has a solid understanding of issues critical to our citizenship. At a deeper level this three-credit class is acknowledgement by state leaders that schooling is about much more than preparation for a job or admission to college; it is about the way we live and the ways that our people and places are different from and more complicated than anywhere else. The class is not a panacea for all that schools could do or that parents should do to ensure that our young people exit 12th grade prepared to participate in the decisions our councils, assemblies and legislatures make for them. But Alaska history can be an essential ingredient in the educational formula that produces citizens who respect each other's differences and measure life success as more than their own personal wealth, health or freedom.
I thank Rep. Kapstner and others for sponsoring and supporting this legislation and urge the Senate to support it so that all our students understand and appreciate what it means to be an Alaskan.