Comments needed: Second draft of social studies standards still alarming
The Minnesota Department of Education has released the second draft of proposed Social Studies Standards for K-12 public schools.
Your valuable feedback to MDE and the Social Studies Standards Committee played a primary role in the improvements made to the second draft, including the standards document dropping derogatory references to “whiteness” and bringing in more objective facts of history, including the key facts of World Wars I and II and the Holocaust.
However, the proposed standards and benchmarks still lack important historical content and include inappropriate themes that would take Minnesota education in the wrong direction. Throughout, the standards and benchmarks continue to manifest a negative and even hateful attitude toward the United States and its history.
Below are five themes embedded throughout the 168-page draft document that prevent students from learning a complete and accurate account of historical and social facts. These themes represent the application of Critical Race Theory and reflect its framework, despite CRT not being specifically mentioned in the document.
Public feedback on the draft two standards and benchmarks can only be submitted through August 16. Given the short comment period, it is imperative you share your thoughts and concerns with MDE and the committee and encourage other Minnesotans to do so as well.
You can send feedback directly by email or mail your feedback (postmarked by August 16) to:
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, MN 55113
MDE and the committee have added Ethnic Studies as a fifth strand of social studies. The legality behind this action is in question, considering Minnesota state statute defines social studies as the academic study of four areas — history, geography, economics, and government and citizenship. Efforts to include Ethnic Studies in the K-12 education omnibus bill passed by the legislature in June were not successful.
In addition, Minnesota state statute requires academic standards to be “clear, concise, objective, measurable, and grade-level appropriate,” which is also in question with the second draft.
Ethnic Studies is defined by MDE as “understanding multiple perspectives,” but the language used in draft two places an overt focus on alleged oppression and marginalization.
For example, 4th graders will look at colonization through a lens of oppression.
188.8.131.52 Identify the processes and impacts of colonization and examine how discrimination and the oppression of various racial and ethnic groups have produced resistance movements.
Middle schoolers will also focus on systemic oppression.
184.108.40.206 Identify and explain how discrimination based on race, gender, economic, and social group identity created and continues to affect the history, health, growth, and current experience of residents of Minnesota.
High schoolers will learn that capital accumulation and oppression/racism are connected by analyzing “racial capitalism.”
220.127.116.11 Examine the characteristics of freedom movements; develop an analysis of racial capitalism, political economy, anti-Blackness, Indigenous sovereignty, illegality and indigeneity.
There is also language within the Ethnic Studies content that is too mature for the applicable grade level. A 1st grade benchmark has students “construct meaning” of advanced concepts.
18.104.22.168 Construct meaning of the terms ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power and identify examples.
Negative View of America
Similar to draft one of the social studies standards, the second draft lacks positive language regarding the United States of America and how it compares to other countries around the world.
For example, several benchmarks refer to U.S. “imperialism,” but there are no references to the U.S. system of government and how it compares to other governmental frameworks that have been tried around the world.
Fourth graders will have to:
22.214.171.124 Analyze anti-colonial and anti-racist resistance movements of culturally, racially and ethnically diverse people throughout the world.
Middle schoolers will learn that colonization “led to the exploitation and genocide of indigenous peoples and the theft of indigenous lands” (126.96.36.199).
Will students also learn about the pros of colonization? Or the history of these indigenous people and how they interacted with each other before settlers arrived? There is no such material in these standards and benchmarks.
Oppression & Identity
The theme of oppression, marginalization, group identity, and absent narratives drives the draft two standards and benchmarks. Students will learn that their self-concept centers around their racial/gender group identity, and that oppression narratives, rather than facts, are the lens through which all social studies content should be viewed.
History Standards 18 and 20 and Ethnic Studies Standard 22 set the stage for this theme by having students “evaluate dominant and non-dominant narratives” … “and why some narratives have been marginalized while others have not”; consider “what perspectives and narratives are absent”; and “reflect upon the roots of contemporary social systems and environmental systems of oppressions.”
First graders will have to “identify voices that are not represented in the historical sources” (188.8.131.52); 3rd graders will “identify possible short- and long-term consequences of different choices, while highlighting that not all individuals have access to the same choices” (184.108.40.206); middle schoolers will have to “construct an argument about U.S. expansion and Native dispossession in Minnesota” (220.127.116.11).
The study of geography also includes this theme. Here is a high school geography benchmark.
18.104.22.168 Explain the social construction of race and how it was used to oppress people of color and assess how social policies and economic forces offer privilege or systematic oppressions for racial/ethnic groups related to accessing social, political, economic and spatial opportunities.
Lack of Native American Balance
There are at least 60 specific benchmarks dedicated to teaching native or indigenous perspectives. Thankfully, the committee removed the preamble language pledging that “social studies education on this land will acknowledge and honor contemporary and historical voices of Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples.” But indigenous people are still the only cultural group specifically held up and “centered” in the standards document. Standard 17 states:
Explain sense of place through ways of knowing (culture) and ways of being (identity) from different perspectives, centering Indigenous voices.
The standard says to explain things from different perspectives but also to center indigenous voices. Why are indigenous voices given this special treatment?
Native American history is an important part of Minnesota history and should be taught (and currently is being taught) to students throughout their time in school. But the standards committee went completely overboard with this draft in an effort to address a perceived lack of content in this area.
The imbalance is particularly evident in the 6th grade, where 21 benchmarks are dedicated to indigenous perspectives. We’ve always taught Minnesota history in the 6th grade, but with this draft of the social studies standards, Minnesota history is mainly Native American history.
One example of loaded language in the benchmarks dedicated to native history includes the phrase “the land that is now Minnesota.” It appears twice in the 6th grade benchmarks.
22.214.171.124 Create and interpret fixed and dynamic maps that represent places on the land that is now Minnesota, including representations from different cultural perspectives.
126.96.36.199 Compare and contrast different places and regions on the land that is Minnesota today, including how power structures have impacted each one over time.
Do MDE and the committee mean Minnesota? Using the phrase “the land that is Minnesota today” is a confusing way to refer to a territory granted statehood 163 years ago. This land acknowledgement language is pervasive across the entire second draft and raises the obvious question: Who owned the land before the Dakota and Anishinaabe? A benchmark in 4th grade deals with this question.
188.8.131.52 Create a timeline of when different groups arrived in your region of the state, acknowledging who was here when they arrived; and describe why and how they came.
It will be fascinating to watch how teachers in Minnesota teach this benchmark. When will their timelines begin?
Minnesota students need to learn about Native American history, but the over-emphasis on this specific culture will not leave enough time in the day for other important historical concepts.
Once the social studies standards are finalized, they will set the stage for what students will learn over the next 10 years. But that didn’t stop committee members from awkwardly forcing current political issues into the benchmarks.
Some benchmarks appear to protect 2nd graders from believing the supposed “Big Lie” about the 2020 election.
184.108.40.206 Participate in a vote by identifying the rules that keep the voting process fair, demonstrating voting skills, accepting the results of the vote and explaining why voting is important.
220.127.116.11 Describe how voting and elections exemplify democratic principles, including, but not limited to, equality, freedom, fairness, respect for individual rights, citizen participation, majority rules and accepting the results of an election.
Accepting the results of an election is a new concept added to the second draft’s benchmarks.
The issue of immigration is an important topic in social studies, but unfortunately it is covered using very biased language for 7th graders.
18.104.22.168 Investigate the struggle for immigration rights and the rights of all immigrants.
While improvements from the first draft have been made, there is still much work to be done, as the draft standards and benchmarks remain committed to pushing subjective narratives rooted in oppression and ideology, and thus contain a strong anti-American bias.
Given that there are only so many instructional hours in the career of a K-12 student, or in this case the social studies class, every minute spent on one topic takes away time from other concepts, and these tradeoffs matter.
Catrin Wigfall is a Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. She is also the director of Educated Teachers MN and Employee Freedom MN.