Conservative group objects to new academic standards

12:41 AM, Jan 25, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A conservative group is asking an administrative law judge to block a new set of statewide academic standards from going into effect next year in Minnesota public schools.

What members of Education Liberty Watch object to most strongly are the proposed social studies standards from the Minnesota Dept. of Education, more specifically the history segment.

"There's reasons people from all over the world come to America, and there's no mention of that whatsoever!" Marjorie Holsten, an Education Liberty Watch member who lives in Maple Grove, told KARE.

"In these standards you have six different strands about enslaved people in the very first part of it, with no mention whatsoever of the world 'pilgrim,' or why the people came to America, or anything about religion!"

The Dept. of Education began developing the new standards in 2010, consulting nearly 50 scholars, teachers and other experts on the social studies section. Town hall listening sessions were held across the state, and thousands of online comments were accepted.

The standards are designed to be general guidelines, covering the learning expectations for students in each grade level. But it will be up to local districts to develop the specific curriculum to implement them.

"The standards are the enduring understanding that we want students to master by the time they graduate," Beth Aune, the Dept. of Education's director of academic standards, told KARE.

In Minnesota students do not undergo standardized tests in social studies, as they do periodically for reading and math. And by law the commissioner of education cannot dictate curriculum, only academic standards.

"For example a standard might talk about various tactics and purposes of different kinds of social movements, including the civil rights movement," Aune explained.

"The district curriculum would need to determine the specifics of which people would be mention if we're talking about the civil rights movement, which kinds of tactics to discuss"

The current standards in Minnesota were adopted in 2004 amid similar controversy, with conservative critics complaining it focused too much on a global perspective and not enough on the concept known as "American exceptionalism."

The 2011 version of the standards is now in the hands of Minnesota Administrative Law Judge Barbara Neilson.  Judge Neilson is expected to issue and Ruling of Law by February 17, which would determine whether or not the new standards can be implemented in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Holsten, an attorney by trade, decided to home school her children out of frustration with her local public school.  She argues that Minnesota teachers are adequately stressing the uniqueness and accomplishments of the United States.

"The founding fathers gave up their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor," Holsten asserted, "That's what they pledged for our freedom, and that's not being taught today. What we're being taught is that old white men were terribly cruel to the indigenous populations."

Holsten and other members of Education Liberty Watch object to some of the terminology used in the standards for high school students, including:

  • institutionalized racism
  • exploitation of indigenous people and lands
  • conquest of indigenous and Mexican territory
  • enslavement of African people.

"A child reading through this, learning that as their history, they're not going to be proud to American at all," Holsten said.

But the Dept of Education's Aune noted those terms all reflect historic reality, something the scholars who helped draft the standards agreed upon during the review.

"We need to tell a balanced narrative," Aune explained.

"We need to talk about the successes of America without minimizing the setbacks."

She noted that history is constantly evolving, and one of the critical thinking skills students are expected to develop includes evaluating evidence about America's past treatment of those who are often under represented in the story of the nation.

"That the story of progress isn't a clear linear story," Aune said.

"It's a story punctuated by good and bad. And most of us would conclude that's what makes America great. It's that continual struggle."

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