15 Years Later: Time To Teach Students The Murrah Bombing?

Monday, March 29th 2010, 11:14 pm
By: News On 6

By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was, without a doubt, one of the most significant -- and tragic -- events in Oklahoma's rich history. So, why is it that many Oklahoma students are being taught nothing, or next to nothing, about the Murrah Bombing?

How could the state that declared to the world that it would "always remember" April 19, 1995, and which built a memorial around that concept, allow the first generation not to have any personal recollection of the tragedy to forget it?

Certainly, that is no one's intention, and, fortunately, it appears the problem is going to be nipped in the bud. Still, it's come as a shock to many to find that we're in this situation at all -- no one more so than the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

"For me it was very personal," said Kari Watkins, "I was speaking in my hometown."

Watkins said she was confronted by a disturbing truth last year during a speech at her alma mater, Cleveland High School, in Pawnee County.

"As I looked out at the 250 or so high school students, I could just see this blank stare, like I was almost speaking a foreign language," Watkins said. "I mean, they had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the Oklahoma City bombing."

How could that be?

Clearly, it's not because Watkins and the Memorial have stopped spreading the word: the Survivor Tree continues to teach about resilience; the field of chairs still teach the cost of violence, while the fence reminds of the importance of community.

Instead, it would seem to be because Oklahoma's public education system is not helping to spread the word.

"I was very disappointed," said Ann-Clore Duncan, a trustee of the Memorial Museum, and parent of two Edmond North high school students. She said her children haven't been taught anything in school about what happened on that dark day almost 15 years ago.

"The bombing hasn't been covered in their history classes at all," Duncan said. "It's not currently part of their required curriculum."

And there's the rub.

"Most of these kids right now that I've got in class were 1 or 2-years-old when this happened," said Bobby Tanner, a 9th grade history teacher at Cushing High School.

Oklahoma History is a one-semester course that's required for graduation, and Tanner said he does his best to cover the bombing, but he said there are two problems in doing that -- the first is that there's not much on the bombing in their textbook.

"That's pretty much it," Tanner showed the Oklahoma Impact Team, flipping through his copy of Oklahoma Adventure. "So, for such a big deal, we've got basically two pages."

The other Oklahoma history textbooks used in the state have roughly the same number of pages dedicated to the bombing.

The other problem, and arguably the more significant problem, is that the Murrah bombing is not a required topic of study in Oklahoma.

As with every core subject, the state develops what are known as PASS standards -- Priority Academic Student Skills. These can include specific facts, as well as, analytical skills related to specific subject matter. Teachers are required to cover these PASS standards.

In Oklahoma History, some of the PASS standards include the Trail of Tears, the land runs, corruption in politics and the Dust Bowl.

"It is hard to get through all of it," Tanner said.

With just one semester to cover all those standards and many more, Tanner said teaching something that is not a PASS standard, like the bombing, just can't be a priority.

"As it is right now, no, it's not," Tanner said, "but... I think that's why we need to make it a priority."

And making the bombing a priority -- making it a PASS standard -- is exactly what State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett and the State Board of Education did earlier this year. They amended the PASS standards to include the Oklahoma City bombing, starting with the 2010-2011 school year.

"I would have liked to have done it sooner," Garrett said in a recent interview, "but the social studies cycle for changing the standards was not really there yet."

Like other states, Oklahoma is on a 6-year textbook cycle, meaning the state adopts new textbooks and other learning materials for core subjects on a rotating basis. The next opportunity to adopt new social studies/history textbooks is for 2013.

Watkins and the Oklahoma City National Memorial have committed to providing schools with supplemental material on the bombing, at no cost to the schools, at least until that time, and beyond, if necessary.

In addition to the action by the State Board of Education in amending the PASS standards, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would make the change statutory.

State Representative Lee Denney (R-Cushing) authored the legislation, HB 2750. Rep. Denney lost a close friend in the bombing, Dr. Margaret "Peggy" Clark, a fellow veterinarian. Denney said she wants to help make sure that promise to remember Clark and all 168 victims is never broken.

"It's just a generation away from forgetting," Denney said, "[and] it's something we can't forget here in the state."

At this point, no one wants to engage in finger-pointing, assessing blame for allowing almost 15 years to pass before taking what are, in truth, relatively common steps. Teacher Bobby Tanner feels, as much as anything, it probably is the result of the fact that, until recently, most high school students could remember where they were when the bombing occurred, and had some knowledge of the judicial process that followed.

That is no longer the case, and parents like Ann-Clore Duncan said it's high time it's made certain that the history of the bombing is passed on in text, not just word.

"Time needs to be spent on this, not just for the historical benefits, but for the life lessons that children can learn from what happened here," Duncan said.