A cabal of progressives wants to rewrite how students learn about their American heritage.
Minnesota parents, are you ready for the coming “woke” invasion of your child’s public school? By 2022, as your first grader is learning that 2 + 2 = 4, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) intends to mandate that she also “learn to recognize” “stereotypes,” “biased speech,” and “injustice at the institutional or systemic level.”
Your middle schooler will be drilled in how his “identity” is a function of his skin color. Your high schooler will be required to explain that Europeans invented “whiteness” and that America’s 19th-century westward expansion was the shameful product of “whiteness, Christianity, and capitalism.”
It’s all part of Gov. Tim Walz’s aggressive campaign to replace academic knowledge and skills with the cultivation of politically correct attitudes and commitments in our state’s public schools. His vehicle is the new first draft of K-12 social studies standards that MDE is proposing to replace the current standards. The standards lay out what students must “satisfactorily complete” to graduate from high school and are revised every 10 years.
If the draft standards are adopted, the next generation of Minnesota citizens will not only be uninformed — but scandalously misinformed — about our state’s and nation’s history and democratic institutions. They will, however, be programmed to become the next generation of “woke” social activists, having spent their public school years immersed in the lingo of the progressive left.
MDE’s crusade to hijack Minnesota schools in service of a political agenda is advancing in the name of warm fuzzies like “inclusion,” “empathy” and “cultural affirmation.” Yet behind this smokescreen, the Department of Education’s hand-picked Social Studies Standards Committee members — overwhelmingly activists and ideological zealots — have declared their deep animus against the American project and their intent to remake its fundamental institutions.
Listen to Jonathan Hamilton, one of the drafting committee’s 44 members and a professor at Macalester College, who has called for elimination of “Minnesota’s Eurocentric, white-washed curriculum.” “White supremacy” is “a system of relations that permeates all [American] institutions” and “curricula is a primary mechanism of white supremacy in schools [sic],” he declared in MinnPost.
Committee member Jose Alvillar concurs. “The revised standards show a commitment to acknowledge…that we as a state challenge the Eurocentric pedagogy that prevails in our education system,” he told the Pioneer Press. Alvillar is an Education Justice Organizer at Navigate MN, an “intersectional, women/queer Latinx led organization committed to social justice.”
Hamilton, Alvillar and their colleagues are not calling for a greater emphasis on African or Asian history. In fact, the draft 2020 standards largely eliminate earlier standards’ far stronger focus on these topics. Their ambition is more grandiose. They regard the new standards as nothing less than a vehicle to “change” how Minnesota’s young people “think, understand and act in the world,” as Hamilton puts it.
MDE’s standards drafters reject the very notion of historical, evidence-based truth. They view history as a one-dimensional power struggle, in which interest groups push competing, subjective “narratives” based on “axes of stratification” such as skin color, class and sexuality. In their eyes, Minnesota’s history classrooms are a kind of racial spoils system, and they intend to “develop counter-narratives” in a quest for what Hamilton labels “curriculum justice.”
The new standards are merely the “first step” in a larger campaign for sweeping social and political change, according to Aaliyah Hodge, another committee member. “Work to create a more equitable system doesn’t end with the social studies standards,” she wrote in the Star Tribune. “[I]n fact it is just the beginning.”
Unfortunately, Big Education’s campaign to replace education with indoctrination is ramping up as Minnesota students’ academic skills are in free fall. In 2019, 40 percent couldn’t read at grade level, and 45 percent couldn’t do grade-level math. Since then, COVID-19 has dealt a devastating setback to many who are struggling to maintain basic skills.
The Revolution Underway
MDE educrats acknowledge that the proposed standards mark a “shift in approach to standards and social studies learning.” A comparison with Minnesota’s original statewide social studies standards, approved by the legislature in 2004, reveals that “shift” is in fact a revolution.
The 2004 standards took a “warts-and-all approach” to American history. But their primary purpose was to ensure that students “gain the knowledge and skills” necessary to “protect and maintain freedom,” in a nation built by “individuals united in an on-going quest for liberty, freedom, justice, and opportunity.”
The 2004 standards focused on ensuring that students understood the chronological story of the key events, actors and ideas that shaped American democracy and the larger world. For example, high schoolers were expected to “understand the origins,” “course” and “impact” of World War II, including leaders and events like Hitler, the Lend-Lease program, the Battle of Midway, the Normandy Invasion, Churchill, Stalin, the Holocaust, and the Nuremberg Trials.
Minnesota’s current standards, adopted in 2011, take a similar approach.
The vision of social studies instruction as “education for democratic citizenship” was widely shared at the time the 2004 standards were adopted. The American Federation of Teachers’ “Education for Democracy” project, for example, included former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and the presidents of the National Education Association and the NAACP among its signers.
“We must transmit to each new generation the political vision of liberty and equality that unites us as Americans, and a deep loyalty to the political institutions put together to fulfill that vision,” declared its Statement of Principles.
As citizens of a democratic republic, we are part of the noblest effort in history. Our children must learn, and we must teach them, the knowledge, values and habits that will best protect and extend this precious heritage.
The Walz administration’s proposed 2020 standards take a very different stance. They regard America as deeply flawed and in need of radical reform. The standards’ preamble states that the purpose of social studies education is to prepare students to address our nation’s “powerful social, cultural and political inequities,” by “examining their identities,” becoming “conscious and critical of their own biases and those of the larger society,” and examining various inequities’ “connections to other axes of stratification, including gender, race, class, sexuality, and legal status.”
The draft history standards are organized not by historical periods, but in terms of five tenets of progressive ideology. For example, one standard requires students to understand how “identity (gender, race, religion, and culture)… influence historical perspective [sic].”
Another directs them to “reflect upon the roots of contemporary social and environmental problems.” The study of history is incidental, and it takes place within this ideological framework.
Thus, fifth graders study the American Revolution in terms of its “impact” on “different groups within the 13 colonies” — including “Women, Patriots, Loyalists, indigenous people, enslaved Africans, free blacks” — and are instructed to “identify what narratives are absent.”
High schoolers study the Civil War in terms of “how indigenous people participated in and were affected” by it. The standards don’t cover the main figures and events of the war itself, so this (along with slavery and the events leading up to secession) is the only context in which students will learn about it.
Students do not study World War II at all. They do touch on the Cold War, but will be unable to do so competently since they will know virtually nothing about the causes, events and outcome of the war that gave rise to it.
What is driving this?
The ideology that powers the draft standards is “racial identity politics,” a core tenet of today’s fashionable “woke” agenda. The standards drill relentlessly into students’ heads that their skin color defines who they are and how they see the world — directly contradicting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s colorblind ideal.
Indoctrination in identity politics starts in kindergarten, where five-year-olds will “identify surface and deep characteristics of different ways of being (identity).” Fourth graders are coached on how one’s “identity” and “biases influence decisions about how to use a space.” Seventh graders are exhorted to “define race and ethnicity from different perspectives and make connections to one’s own ways of being (identities).
By high school, students must “explain” — parrot back is more like it — “the social construction of race” and “assess how social policies and economic forces offer privilege or systematic oppressions for racial/ethnic groups.”
The standards portray America as a greedy, “imperialist” nation, permeated by “powerful social, cultural and political inequities.” Students are led to conclude unjust institutions must be transformed.
They are primed for political activism from the earliest ages. Kindergartners, for example, are groomed to be not loyal or patriotic, but reflexively skeptical members of our nation’s “adversary culture.”
Currently, for example, Minnesota kindergartners learn about the Pledge of Allegiance and first graders about American flag etiquette. But the draft 2020 standards omit mention of both.
Instead, kindergartners are required to “describe symbols, songs and traditions that identify Minnesota’s Anishinaabe and Dakota tribes and communities, the state and nation.” (“State” and “nation” are merely afterthoughts here.) The standards imply that these tribes are our state’s rightful inhabitants, and in later grades students will learn that white “colonists” seized “the land now known as Minnesota” by “theft” and “genocide.”
Over and over, the standards focus students’ attention on the goals and tactics of left-wing political activists, present them as models for emulation, and exhort students to follow their lead.
For example, fifth graders are required to “investigate how groups (Example: women, religious groups, civil rights groups, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ) have advocated for access to greater rights.” Sixth graders must “describe the goals of activists in their quest for their voice to be heard, especially anti-war, racial minorities, immigrants/refugees, women, LGBTQ, and indigenous people.”
High schoolers are immersed in the full gamut of “woke” political causes. For instance, they must:
- Identify “successful strategies in the environmental movement” and “make a plan” to “organize local community action”;
- study sexual identity activists’ campaigns, and exhibit a “respectful awareness” for “how ideas and norms about gender have changed over time”;
- “analyze how resistance movements in the U.S. have organized” against “oppression” and “apply” these groups’ “successful principles” at “the school and local level”; and
- “take action to affect policy” on “historically marginalized communities of color and indigenous nations.”
After years of such propaganda, high school students are required to “draw lessons from the past in order to imagine and work toward an equitable and caring future.” However, this “equitable and caring” vision will not be their own, but what was spoon-fed to them for 12 years.
The Walz administration’s goal here is not to equip Minnesota’s next generation of citizens to reach their own conclusions on hot-button social and political issues. It’s to program them to line up behind the “woke” agenda. Consequently, the standards minimize or omit information that could prompt students to question the progressive narrative.
Why are the standards silent on pivotal events such as World War II? Likely, in part, because the Normandy Invasion and the American-led defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich place our nation in a heroic light. Absent too is the story of America’s gargantuan, decades-long effort to overcome the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, including Brown v. Board of Education, the 1960s civil rights acts, affirmative action, nationwide busing for school desegregation, and multi-trillion-dollar social programs.
Similarly, when students study the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, the standards say they must “mak[e] sure to connect this history to persistent discrimination and inequity in the present.”
At the same time, the standards fail to give young people the broad historical context they need to put their own nation’s flaws into perspective. They learn nothing, for example, about the centuries- long Arab and African slave trades, or 20th-century totalitarian movements and atrocities like Soviet gulags, the Nazi Holocaust, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The Social Studies Standards Committee
The Social Studies Standards Committee is composed primarily of people who represent demographic special interest groups or “equity” organizations with
an aggressive political agenda. Native Americans are about one percent of Minnesota’s population, but made up almost 20 percent of the committee that drafted the standards.
The committee’s only trained historian is not an expert on America’s founding era or 20th-century history. She is a specialist on African slave religions, and the religious and medical practices of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, including “obeah” — defined by Merriam-Webster as “a system of belief…characterized by the use of magic ritual to ward off misfortune or to cause harm.”
Not surprisingly, the standards include a strikingly disproportionate emphasis on
indigenous people, and many benchmarks forthrightly promote activist Native American political priorities. For example, the draft begins with a new “woke” fad — a “land acknowledgement.”
Minnesota is the contemporary and ancestral home of the Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples, and social studies education on this land will acknowledge and honor their contemporary and historical voices.
What will it mean to filter all social studies instruction — in citizenship, geography, economics and history — through this narrow ethnic lens? One thing is clear: Students will get a highly romanticized version of Native American life and history.
For example, first graders will be required to “describe how one’s sense
of place is developed, including wisdom from Dakota and Anishinaabe voices.” (Native Americans are the only people the standards describe as having “wisdom.”)
The standards omit any mention of these tribes’ warrior culture, their practice of slavery, and their violent seizure of their “home” land from the Iowa and Otoe peoples sometime after 1700.
A primary goal of the 2020 standards appears to be to accustom Minnesota students to the vocabulary, categories of thought and priorities of Native American political activists. These include reclaiming land, removing statues, renaming landmarks and promoting “oral history” that is inconsistent with the historical record. To this end, as fourth graders study states, capitals and major American cities, they must learn on which people’s land “these places were built.” An entire anchor standard and 39 benchmarks — three times the number of the current standards — pertain to the Anishinaabe and Dakota people.
The harm being done
MDE’s substitution of indoctrination for education in our state’s K-12 schools will do incalculable harm.
By recruiting students into “identity politics,” it will drive toxic wedges between children, create frictions and resentments that permeate their school day, and amplify the depression and anxiety that — as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has documented — already afflict so many of our young people.
Minority students will suffer most. They will come to see themselves as victims, instead of learning the “success formula” — character, resilience and hard work — that has lifted so many, both white and black, even in the face of discrimination and adversity.
The shift will also harm teachers, a growing number of whom are fleeing public schools rather than teach — and endure a school climate twisted by — this false and grim vision.
Finally, the new racialist ideology is deadly for our democratic way of life. America’s freedom and prosperity are based, not on shared race or ethnicity, but on an allegiance to shared principles — including human beings’ unique dignity and unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Walz administration’s “us vs. them” ideology, taken to its logical conclusion, denies the very possibility of democratic governance. If we are born into perpetually warring racial groups, as it claims, we can neither understand one another nor reason together about the common good.
The standards committee attempts to justify its “woke” ideology on grounds that “students of color don’t see themselves” in school curricula. Yet the promises of America’s founding documents are for all Americans. Frederick Douglass, a towering civil rights hero and former slave, lauded the Constitution as “a glorious liberty document,” while Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., hailed the Declaration of Independence as a “promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
The millions who flock here from Africa and Asia embrace this vision. Today, Nigerian and Ghanaian Americans have higher median household incomes than white Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The standards committee rejects education that focuses on the origins and evolution of our democratic republic, denouncing it as “Eurocentric.” Yet the standards of equality and human rights by which its members claim to judge America — and find it woefully wanting — arose in the West, and only the West.
The MDE committee wants to cut down the tree of Western Civilization, but they still want its fruits.
Historian Daniel Boorstin warned that if Americans fail to grasp the realities
of comparative world history, we will be “left with nothing but abstractions, nothing but baseless utopias to compare ourselves with.”
Gov. Walz’s Department of Education is in the process of injecting a toxic ideology into the civic bloodstream of Minnesota. His “Due North” education plan and budget for the 2022-23 biennium will expand the radical agenda of the draft social studies standards throughout the state’s K-12 education system.
Minnesotans must hold our governor accountable. This mess can’t be fixed by tinkering around the edges. The whole thing must go.