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Legislature chamber

The Nebraska Legislature meets in the George W. Norris Chamber.

In an era where political contention seems to lend itself to dichotomies of right and wrong, without gray areas, it’s worth remembering that disagreeing sides can both have valid points.

The latest version of the Americanism bill before the Nebraska Legislature provides a perfect example.

Proponents of the legislation to reform civics education, introduced by Peru Sen. Julie Slama, are correct when they point out shortcomings in the 70-year-old state law, adopted during the Red Scare, governing the topic. Meanwhile, opponents raise salient concerns, fears of papering over of dark chapters in American history.

Accordingly, lawmakers can strike a compromise that ought to satisfy both camps. The law should be updated to ensure Nebraska students have a better grasp of this country’s founding while fairly and accurately portraying unpleasant facts about our nation’s past.

Social studies education must be about far more than rote memorization. Nebraska’s youth must learn the critical thinking necessary to become informed citizens in our democracy while understanding the impact of history – for better and worse – that continues to shape our nation and world.

Nothing makes lessons on the grand American experiment and our Constitution incompatible with lessons on slavery, internment camps, the dismantling of Native culture and other ills. In fact, both must factor into curricula across the state to ensure Nebraska students have the broadest possible knowledge and application of our nation’s complicated history.

The last thing this country needs is for ignorance of history to allow past actions to be repeated. Already, emboldened self-proclaimed Nazis march on American soil and tensions with Russia rise, among other events. Sanitizing our country’s story does no favors.

Amendments to the bill have allayed some lawmakers’ fears that the achievements and struggles of minority groups and women will be overlooked. Enough common ground exists in this area to where LB399 can be tweaked sufficiently to suit all senators.

Much of the remaining discord revolves around wording some senators feel mandates patriotism. Their concerns have merit, given some – but not all – language to that end has been struck from the bill.

Nothing is more American than the freedom to choose our own beliefs without fear of punishment.

As patriotic Americans, we want students to come to that same conclusion on their own – without a state law requiring it. Recent news about a Florida boy arrested after refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance highlights the dangers of heavy-handed legislation as Russia bans "disrespect" of government.

When it comes to social studies education, free inquiry and unvarnished truth are of the utmost importance. Nebraska can – and should – achieve both in revising this dated state law in a way that more fully educates students about and immerses them in civics and history.

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