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In early 2011, I received a call from Wil Meya, the director of The Language Conservancy in Bloomington, Indiana.  He had an idea for a documentary film and wanted to know if I had any interest in the helping to make the film a reality.  I get a lot of calls like this and I was ready to say no; I know how long and hard the climb is to the mountaintop of full funding, production, and eventual broadcast.  But there was something intriguing about the idea and, at the same time, something very familiar.
Wil’s idea was this – a documentary about the imminent peril to the Lakota language, the culture shaped by that language, and the history that created that peril.  The Language Conservancy and its sister organization, The Lakota Language Consortium, had been working to save the Lakota language for eleven years.  Conventional teaching methods had failed miserably; after decades of tribal and government support, exactly zero children were coming out of public schools speaking Lakota.  The danger to the language was (and is) imminent because the average age of native speakers is sixty-five.  When they pass away, their grandchildren will not be Lakota speakers unless the community figures out right now how to teach the language effectively. 
What intrigued me about the film, besides the well-known international statistic that there are approximately 6000 languages in the world and one dies every three months (some say every two weeks!), was that I had produced a very similar film not long before.  In the mid-2000s the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts sponsored “Through Deaf Eyes,” a co-production with WETA, Washington DC in Association with Gallaudet University, about the history of deaf life in America.  The central conflict in the film was the threat to American Sign Language from technical advances and cultural assimilation.  In many ways, these same forces also threaten the survival of the Lakota language.

House Fails to Fund K-12 History and Civics Education

This is a slightly modified version of a post that originally appeared on the National Coalition for History website. Click here to see the original post.

On July 16, the U.S. Senate approved S. 1177, the “Every Child Achieves Act,” with strong bipartisan support. The vote in favor of the bill was 81-17. The bill reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and would replace the much-maligned “No Child Left Behind Act.”

The legislation reduces the role of the federal government in K-12 education and gives states and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) greater control over such things as funding, teacher evaluation, school choice, testing, standards and accountability. Notably, the Department of Education would be prohibited from forcing states to adopt uniform standards, such as Common Core.

In contrast, the House passed its version of the bill (HR 5) along strict party lines by a vote of 218-213. Twenty-seven Republicans joined all 186 Democrats in opposition to the legislation. The House bill goes further in reducing the federal footprint in K-12 education, returning even more control over education to the states and localities. The Obama administration issued a veto threat to the House bill, but has refrained from taking a formal position on the Senate legislation. The House and Senate bills must be reconciled in a conference committee. Therefore, an ESEA rewrite still has a long way to go before passage.

S. 1177 includes promising developments for history and civics education. It restores limited federal funding for both those subjects although a specific amount is not specified in the bill.

  1. Title II of the bill (professional development) includes a competitive grant program for LEAs to carry out teaching of traditional American history as an academic subject in elementary and secondary schools.
  2. It also includes funding for Presidential and Congressional academies in American history and civics; these are intensive summer institutes for teachers and for students (sophomores and juniors in high school).
  3. Grants would be made available to non-profits to support innovative approaches to teaching history, civics and geography, particularly those focused on reaching underserved students.  Funds may be used to support development of new or dissemination of existing approaches.

In fiscal year (FY) 2012 Congress terminated funding for the “Teaching American History” (TAH) grants program at the Department of Education. Appropriations earmarked for civic education and federal funding for National History Day, a nationally-recognized program which increases student participation in historical studies across the country, were also eliminated. As a result, since FY 11 there has been no federal funding provided for history or civics education.

The National Humanities Alliance is working closely with the National Coalition for History to encourage the House to include funding for history and civics in as the House and Senate reconcile their bill. You can take part in this effort by sending a message to your representative.

Click here to urge your representative to support these subjects that are vital to our democracy and a well-rounded education!