Illinois House committee discusses accuracy of American history taught in colleges

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) — Young people in Illinois start to learn about American history during elementary school and get more in-depth courses in high school. Many of their teachers studied history at Illinois universities, but state lawmakers want to ensure every college is keeping a standard of teaching history from all American perspectives.

Most universities have spent the past decade marketing themselves as places for diversity, equity, and inclusion, but that may not always be the case in history curricula. While some colleges present courses focused on the American experience for minority communities, administrators know there is room for improvement. 

Professors told the Illinois House Appropriations-Higher Education Committee Thursday that it is complicated for students to understand how they fit into historical narratives. Now, many history departments are modernizing their curriculum to reflect that.

“They are doing historical things and the folks who operate in history are really no different than who they are,” said Dr. Lionel Kimble, an Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies at Chicago State University. “They were ordinary people who were thrust into extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” 

Illinois lawmakers want to discuss this situation as more states across the country move to ban teaching of race in college history courses. At least 25 states have considered legislation or other steps to limit how race can be taught at the college level. Forty-four states have introduced proposal to restrict teaching critical race theory or limit discussions about racism and sexism since January 2021, according to analysis from Education Week. House Democrats noted that eight states have banned critical race theory for college students. 

“If you break down the word history, it’s his story,” said Rep. Cyril Nichols (D-Burbank). “Right? And a lot of times, his story changes throughout our institutions in the great state of Illinois.” 

Administrators from Eastern Illinois University, Illinois State University, and the University of Illinois system shared that they are committed to promoting culturally responsive teaching standards. 

“That’s the type of history that we can’t run from,” Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said. “I just want everyone to be seen for who they are. And I think if we do it at the university level, our society will change.” 

Although, some committee members are also worried that it currently takes roughly 10 years to add new history courses about current events.

“See if the process can somehow be circumvented in a way that you can offer these great classes at your great institution for the great state of Illinois and the great students that choose to go there to learn about history, be it African American history or anybody else’s history,” Nichols said.

Several Legislative Black Caucus members on the committee stressed that all history is important and college students should be able to see themselves in their curriculum. 

The House Appropriations-Higher Education Committee will start hearing budget proposals from universities next week. However, members want to continue this discussion about historical accuracy later this session. 

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February 16, 2023 at 06:19PM

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