State Senator Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, is sponsoring SB 209, which would require the reading of specific primary source documents in school, including the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and Michigan Constitution. Colbeck was asked how this bill would differ from the existing curriculum, and his response was that he is concerned that students are only being taught interpretations of these documents, rather than understanding the original texts. That is certainly a valid concern, but the article provides nothing more than the senator’s anecdotal evidence as a rationale for devoting the legislature’s energy to this effort; he offers no actual data to prove that students are not currently reading and comprehending these founding documents of our nation and state. It is also worth noting that the Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects are already quite clear about the importance of reading primary source texts, as it turns up in no less than four standards:
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.”
In addition to the fact that primary source reading is already a priority in the existing standards, this bill also is an effort to further strip local control from districts and classroom teachers, and create additional, redundant state standards. Perplexingly, this effort runs counter to the traditional conservative values of small government and local control, and the expenditure of legislative time, energy, and taxpayer dollars to re-mandate something that is already required by the existing standards is frustrating. Ironically, Colbeck actually opposed the state’s adoption of the Common Core back in 2013, expressing “concerns about a possible lack of local control over what is taught in Michigan schools,” yet now he favors a bill that would tell teachers exactly which primary source texts they must teach and how to teach them. This bill has passed committee and will be considered by the full Senate, but with a better understanding of the existing standards, the legislature could be spending its time on issues that have a greater impact on Michigan’s students and taxpayers.