Monday, December 17, 2012

History: who's story?

"The philosophy of the schoolhouse today is the philosophy of the government tomorrow." —Abraham Lincoln (attributed)

Minnesota's academic standards in social studies, created in 2004, are nearing the end of their year-long review cycle, and will likely be adopted pending a hearing before an administrative law judge on Thursday, December 20.

As a member of the Academic Standards Committee that created the 2004 standards, I recognize some improvements to the process and structure of the standards, but I am troubled by how the U.S. history standards were rewritten to tell a story of European oppression of native and minority peoples, while suppressing or deemphasizing American values of liberty, inalienable rights, and the best that America has to offer.

For example, here are some of the standards that will be considered at the December 20 hearing.
Standard 16 Rivalries among European nations and their search for new opportunities fueled expanding global trade networks and, in North America, colonization and settlement and the exploitation of indigenous peoples and lands; colonial development evoked varied responses by indigenous nations, and produced regional societies and economies that included imported slave labor and distinct forms of local government. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585-1763)

Standard 18 Economic expansion and the conquest of indigenous and Mexican territory spurred the agricultural and industrial growth of the United States; led to increasing regional, economic and ethnic divisions; and inspired multiple reform movements. (Expansion and Reform: 1792-1861)

Standard 19 Regional tensions around economic development, slavery, territorial expansion, and governance resulted in a civil war and a period of Reconstruction that led to the abolition of slavery, a more powerful federal government, a renewed push into indigenous nations’ territory and continuing conflict over racial relations. (Civil War and Reconstruction: 1850-1877)

Standard 20 As the United States shifted from its agrarian roots into an industrial and global power, the rise of big business, urbanization and immigration led to institutionalized racism, ethnic and class conflict, and new efforts at reform. (Development of an industrial United States: 1870-1920)
Yes, our country's mistakes must be acknowledged, or we are doomed to repeat them. Still these new standards raise the question: what is the story that our public education system will inculcate into the next generation? Is the United States an oppressive and racist society where most people are victims of economic injustice with a future of despair? Will American exceptionalism be replaced by "leading from behind" and "apology tours?"

Or is the United States like the city upon a hill, looked to by the rest of the world as a land of opportunity? When the torch is passed to the next generation, will our public schools prepare them to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty?"

Here is the official notice of the hearing.

See Education Liberty Watch and this blog for updates on the new social studies standards, and the Minnesota Department of Education for detailed information on the standards.

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