Minnesota must do better to prepare students to be informed citizens

While cookouts, fireworks, and time with loved ones are certainly fun parts of the Fourth of July, I hope you took some time to reflect on the holiday’s significance — celebrating the quest for freedom through the passage of the Declaration of Independence and the ushering in of the Founders’ vision of the sovereign individual.

Minnesota’s K-12 students currently learn about this independence movement “that resulted in the American Revolution and the foundation of a new nation based on the ideals of self-government and liberty” in social studies, as it is one of the standards under the history sub-strand. Centering instruction on American liberty, from protecting it to enhancing it and then sustaining it, is a must.

Minnesota’s proposed standards prioritize identity politics

But under the proposed revisions to the state’s social studies standards, there is no such standard worded in this way. The proposed new standards — which are currently working their way through the rule-making process — replace objective historical knowledge with a fixation on “absent narratives” and “dominant and non-dominant narratives.”

Here are a couple of the benchmarks on the American Revolution under the history sub-strand.

  • Fifth grade — “Compare the impact of the American Revolution on different groups within the 13 colonies that made up the new United States and identify what narratives are absent.”
  • Fifth grade — “Explain an event or events of the American Revolution through multiple perspectives.”
  • High school — “Identify and analyze dominant and non-dominant narratives about the American Revolution.”

On many fronts, the proposed standards and benchmarks would take Minnesota education in the wrong direction. “They are driven by the themes of Critical Race Theory: group identity based on race; life as a power struggle between oppressors and victims; and American history as a shameful story of domination, marginalization and injustice,” shares my colleague Kathy Kersten in her analysis of the draft standards.

Thousands upon thousands of Minnesotans statewide voiced their concern to the Minnesota Department of Education through American Experiment’s Raise Our Standards campaign.

MDE should heed this feedback, scrap its proposed social studies standards that clearly pursue a narrow, partisan agenda, and introduce learning standards that provide comprehensive content knowledge in history, geography, civics and economics.

Instead: Prioritize shared history of liberty

The good news is such model content standards already exist, thanks to the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright project, of which American Experiment’s Kathy Kersten serves on the executive and steering committees.

These model K-12 social studies standards teach students to

identify the ideals, institutions, and individual examples of human liberty, individualism, religious freedom, and republican self-government; assess the extent to which civilizations have fulfilled these ideals; and describe how the evolution of these ideals in different times and places has contributed to the formation of modern American ideals.

(More will be written on these excellent model standards in the very near future.)

The quest for freedom didn’t end the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. In fact, Independence Day represents efforts to not only earn freedom but to keep it. As we work to protect and advance our liberty, that work must include preparing students to further develop into responsible, enlightened, and civic minded adults and members of society.

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — Winston Churchill