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June 15, 2006

Knowledge Suppression In Kentucky Schools

Why this issue is even controversial has always been beyond me. And I was frankly pleased to see Kentucky act to ensure that its students learned about a common scholarly practice -- the use of BCE and CE instead of BC and CE by some scholars.

Unfortunately, the best educational practice -- teaching all sides of the issue -- has been unanimously repealed by the State Board of Education.

The state school board, with six new members, on Wednesday changed its answer on a history question that had turned into an emotional religious debate.

The reconfigured board, with six new appointments by Gov. Ernie Fletcher, reversed a decision two months earlier that would have taught students about a new way to describe historic dates traditionally identified as B.C. or A.D.

Those designations carry religious overtones because they stand for Before Christ, and Anno Domini — Latin for "in the year of the Lord."

The board's April 11 decision to adopt curriculum changes that included teaching the designations of B.C.E. for Before Common Era and C.E. or Common Era, had drawn criticism from some activist ministers and religious groups. Some conservative Christians complained the change was an attempt to sterilize a reference to Christ.

"It's part of a larger effort to expunge religious references in our culture," said Martin Cothran, a policy analyst at The Family Foundation, a conservative group based in Lexington. "I think it's not something that's coming from regular people. It's coming from certain other sectors of our society who think that we ought not to talk about religion in our public life."

Frankly, I view Mr. Cothran to be an utter jackass for making such a statement. It is about preparing students for college level work, where they will almost certainly be exposed to scholarly works which use the alternative dating system. Indeed, the areas in which the alternative designations are most likely to be found are scholarly works dealing with Biblical archaeology and scripture studies! Why? Out of respect for the many Jewish scholars (and small number of Muslim scholars) who work in those fields.

I teach the issue in my classroom within the first day or two of the beginning of the school year. I point out that multiple dating systems have existed throughout history and that some are used today. I note that the dating system we use in our society contains an affirmation of faith -- and that an alternative designation is sometimes used by scholars. I also note that the abbreviation may legitimately be rendered as either the "Chrisitan Era" or the "Common Etra", but that either alternative still revolves around the traditional rendering of the date of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. I then ask that they be consistent in their use of one or the other system -- and that my personal choice is the traditional BC/AD, but that either choice is 100% correct. I then move on -- usually to a quick review of longitude and latitude, having spent (at most) 15 minutes on the calendar issue.

This really is not a substantive issue -- I cannot understand the need for state-mandated ignorance of such a minor issue.





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Comments on Knowledge Suppression In Kentucky Schools

I've actually heard CE/BCE explained as "Christian Era" and "Before Christian Era," though I suspect the meaning you cite in this post is probably the actual meaning.

You're absolutely right, though; this is a complete non-issue. Students should be prepared to enter the world understanding what they see and read.

|| Posted by John, June 16, 2006 06:19 AM ||

Actually, the original meaning (as I was taught) was "Christian Era" -- but those who object to even that much of a hat-tip to Christianity began to render it the other way.

Regardless, the starting date still implicitly revolves around the birth of the Word-Made-Flesh.

I also make the point that dating systems may be arbitrarily started around any date -- such as the Anno Libertatis (Year of Our Liberty) dating system used in L. Neil Smith's alternate universe novel The Probability Broach (how is that for an obscure reference -- but it was a favorite of mine in high school) -- with the year 1776 AD becoming the year 1 AL. I've noticed that kids find the Muslim calendar system dated from the Hajj to be intriguing. I also show them (actually sing it in Gregorian Chant) the Catholic proclamation of the birth of Christ sung each Christmas at midnight mass -- and containing references to multiple calendar systems (the Jewish calendar dated from the Creation, the Roman calendar dated from the founding of the city of Rome, the regnal calendar of the Roman emperors, the Greek Olympiad calendar) as an example of how dating systems can, do, and have always varied throughout history.

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, June 16, 2006 08:24 AM ||

I remember the first time I heard the terms was, indeed, in college. I figured out what my professor meant pretty quickly, but there was one student in my class who finally raised his hand to ask what she meant after she'd used both terms many times. Then others felt brave enough to say they weren't familiar with the terms either. The professor chided the class for not asking the first time she used the terms. It's all about making sure students know what they need to know.

|| Posted by Dana Huff, June 21, 2006 11:07 AM ||

Like you I find it a poor use of time for boards to have to take this matter under consideration. I introduce American History to nine and ten year olds and also have to address what those "funny looking letters after dates" mean. Since there is more than one way of dating things and since I know students will see dates written in all forms I feel I must go over this with them. We do it very early in the year and kids are very receptive to the background material I give. Most state they have been wondering what those letters mean. Like you I have my personal choice but I teach them all since students will see them all in the future.

|| Posted by elementaryhistoryteacher, June 23, 2006 06:40 PM ||
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