FOIA request reveals colonialism/Israel links in social studies standards

Thanks to a public data request, American Experiment has the receipts on examples the Minnesota Department of Education’s Social Studies Standards Committee wrote to guide educators on social studies instruction.

Proposed Minnesota K-12 social studies standards and benchmarks include numerous references to terms and concepts like “settler colonialism,” “decolonization,” and “dispossession” — eerily similar language recently used in an incendiary statement on the Israel attacks by the Twin Cities chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Given these similarities, House Republicans recently sent Gov. Tim Walz a letter urging him to help stop the adoption of the proposed changes, reminding him that even his own party chair condemned the statement issued by the Twin Cities DSA for similar rhetoric in the proposed social studies standards and benchmarks.

But not everyone is willing to connect the dots. Max Nesterak with the Minnesota Reformer recently tweeted that the standards “don’t refer to settler-colonialism in the context of Israel (which isn’t mentioned)…it’s specifically about American history.”

First, here is a high school world history benchmark: “Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of decolonization and independence movements in the 20th and 21st centuries.”

It does not specifically name Israel, but its scope is outside American history.

Second, and more telling, are the examples that the Minnesota Department of Education’s Social Studies Standards Committee wrote in a September 2021 working draft. American Experiment received a copy of this working draft through a public data request.

While it was decided to not publish the third draft of social studies standards and benchmarks in November 2021 with examples included, the examples from the working draft provide context to the thought process behind the revision language choices.

For example, a proposed ethnic studies standard titled “Resistance” directs students to: “Describe how individuals and communities have fought for freedom and liberation against systemic and coordinated exercises of power locally and globally.” The corresponding high school benchmark directs students to: “Compare and contrast the liberation struggles of people in different regions of the world that have fought for self-determination, liberation and the empowerment of disenfranchised and/or marginalized groups.” In the September 2021 working draft, the examples of what this should include listed the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

A proposed high school geography benchmark directs students to: “Analyze the impact of colonialism, from multiple perspectives, on the emergence of independent states and the tensions that arise when the boundaries of political units do not correspond to the nationalities or ethnicities of the people living within them.” The examples in the September 2021 working draft included “Israel-Palestine.”

A proposed world history standard directs K-12 students to “ask historical questions about context, change and continuity in order to identify and analyze dominant and non-dominant narratives about the past.” The corresponding high school benchmark: “Examine conflicting narratives about the past and identify how these narratives can lead to global conflict.” The examples in the September 2021 working draft included the “Israel-Palestine conflict.”

While students should absolutely learn about this conflict, the rhetoric in the proposed revisions would present this and other social studies content from a limited perspective that risks enflaming divisions in schools. It also happens to be the prevailing perspective of those protesting Israel on college campuses in the U.S. and at embassies around the world.


An administrative law judge (ALJ) will review the proposed standards and hold public hearings on them November 8 from 6-8 p.m. and November 9 from 1-4:15 p.m. Minnesotans can submit public comments for the ALJ to consider through the Office of Administrative Hearings’ website here — deadline is 4:30 p.m. on October 25. (Check out my post here to learn more about what the ALJ will consider in his review.)