Mankato Free Press sells its readers short

The editorial board of the Mankato Free Press recently took issue with American Experiment’s Raise Our Standards education tour (Our View: Campaign against social study standards a political ploy), resorting to sweeping generalizations, vague statements and unsupported accusations about our message on the social studies standards revision process and Critical Race Theory.

The piece quotes nothing from the Raise Our Standards presentation, but its choice of words indirectly tell readers they are being duped. The board blindly defends the Minnesota Department of Education when they claim their intentions are not to interject critical race theory into the standards.

Whether or not this is the Minnesota Department of Education’s “intention,” social studies content is undermined in the first draft. We are responding to what was published, and we point out that key history and ideas that shaped our state’s and nation’s history were left out to ensure the next draft provides the comprehensive approach to social studies that our children deserve.

The department acknowledges in the document’s opening paragraphs that “this draft of the standards represents a shift in approach to standards and social studies learning.” The draft begins with a land acknowledgement and sets the stage for all history, economics, geography, and citizenship in Minnesota public schools to be taught through this lens for the next 10 years.

The purpose of social studies standards is described as preparing students to address “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 board again takes the department’s word when they quote Assistant Commissioner Bobbie Burnham.

Assistant Education Commissioner Bobbie Burnham said the document contains 22 broad standards and some prospective benchmarks for each. The benchmarks are examples and aren’t intended to be exhaustive. World wars and other events of historical significance absolutely will continue to be taught in public schools, Burnham said.

Out of the 22 anchor standards in the first draft, the five that cover history pale in comparison to the 23 standards dedicated to history in the standards currently being taught.

The draft history standards also are not organized 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.”

The department’s first draft concedes that it is neither complete nor final, but it makes no mention of adding more history benchmarks in later drafts. Instead, the plan was to add “further clarifications, connections to local contexts, and/or examples” to the benchmarks in later drafts. But examples are optional and are not required to be taught by state statute — unlike the definitive standards and benchmarks.

The department also stated in the first draft that it will delay until the second draft “the full consideration of the following areas” including “contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities” and “full attention to issues of diversity and equity.” Again, nothing about planning to add more U.S. or world history.

The editorial goes on to question the motives of American Experiment’s tour, saying it was meant to incite, not inform and “doesn’t present facts in context.”

Of course, no examples or direct quotes from the presentation were provided to support these claims.

The article continues by citing comments on CRT shared by a resident at a school board meeting (unrelated to the Raise Our Standards tour), followed by the editorial board stating that “school boards don’t even set the standards; the state does with plenty of opportunity for the public to contribute input.” This exact point was made several times during American Experiment’s presentation.

Students should absolutely learn about the faults, flaws, and horrors in America’s complex history. When our history is told well, it doesn’t omit these things. This was also stated several times during American Experiment’s presentation.

The problem with Critical Race Theory is that it is not merely a way to teach about and address racism. It goes beyond that, questioning “the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” In practice, it is dominated by race essentialism, collective guilt, and neo-segregation. All of which do not help advance the interests of students.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Mankato Free Press on June 27, 2021.