Social Studies

California Lawmaker Wants Students to Learn About Russian Hacking

By Marva Hinton — January 20, 2017 3 min read
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A California state lawmaker wants to make sure students in the state know that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

Democratic Assemblyman Marc Levine said he’s introducing a bill that would require the state Board of Education to develop curriculum to cover the issue in history classes.

“This legislation ensures that all California students will learn how the Russian government conspired to influence the United States Presidential Election to elect Donald Trump,” says Levin in a news release.

In the months leading up to the election, documents from the Democratic Party were leaked to the public. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russia was behind the hacking, and Congressional leaders are calling for further investigation.

“This is a threat to our democracy and must be treated with appropriate significance in American history,” Levine says in his news release.

Jeremy Stoddard is an associate professor in the school of education at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.

He said Levine’s request that the incident be included in history lessons is a little surprising at this stage.

“It’s a bit early to try to put something into a curriculum, which is often a long process especially in a history curriculum, when the events are still going on,” said Stoddard.

But he said teachers shouldn’t shy away from the topic.

“It could be engaged in as an ongoing issue in that this is what we know, this is the possible ramifications of it,” said Stoddard. “Even if the hacking did occur and they attempted to influence the election, it’s going to be really hard to know what the actual impact of any of that interference was in terms of the results. It’s really hard to include it in the history books until we know more.”

Of course, getting a new history book written and approved doesn’t happen overnight. But Levine did assert that if he gets a law passed about lessons in Russian hacking it could influence the whole country.

“California is the largest textbook market in the nation,” he said in a news release. “Textbooks approved in our state are used throughout the country. Through this legislation, we can make sure students in California and across the United States receive accurate information about the 2016 presidential election.”

Stoddard said changing state standards or getting these lessons into a textbook would likely take a year or two. Then a lot would depend on when schools plan to adopt and order new textbooks.

“More than likely, by the time this would actually come out in a textbook, we’d probably know more information about it,” said Stoddard. “We could know it was a non-issue or that it was a bigger issue. That’s why I would say it’s a little rash right now.”

Stoddard has studied how schools teach about September 11, 2001, and said this situation may be handled similarly when it comes to developing curriculum. He said after 9-11 many organizations produced curricula online that had the ability to react more dynamically to the situation than a textbook.

And American history teachers may have a lot of say in how this would be taught, especially since they’re expected to cover so much material.

“They’re covering everything from (the) pre-Columbus period through to the present, so how much time they can actually spend on any single event means the teacher is making choices,” said Stoddard, who added that this topic might be covered better in a civics class as one of the things that can influence an election.

Levine is calling his bill the Pravda Act of 2017. Pravda was the official newspaper of the Communist party of the former Soviet Union.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.