National Expert: Minnesota’s academic standards among the nation’s worst

Social Studies expert Professor Wilfred McClay says standards move Minnesota backwards

A new report written by national social studies expert Wilfred McClay and released today from Center of the American Experiment details how the draft social studies standards developed in 2021 focus on divisive topics, favor radical political activism over academic knowledge and are now among the worst social studies standards in the nation. McClay was asked to review the standards by American Experiment and was the featured speaker at a September event in Bloomington. Today’s release is the result of his more thorough review.

Dr. Wilfred McClay is an eminent historian who has taught American history at the University of Oklahoma; Pepperdine, Georgetown, and Tulane Universities; Hillsdale College and other higher education institutions. He has received numerous national and international awards and served as a consultant to other states revising their social studies and history standards. He is the author of Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story (2019), a bestselling, prize-winning U.S. history textbook for high school and middle school students.

“I find that the proposed new Standards do not warrant the public’s support,” writes Professor McClay. “They are unacceptably politicized, and are too deficient in too many categories to be acceptable.”

McClay lamented the change in social studies standards over time, writing that Minnesota’s standards in 2004 were “universally regarded as a model for the nation.” McClay characterized the 2011 social studies standards in Minnesota as excellent and balanced but lamented their proposal to replace them today with standards “motivated by radical, even revolutionary, political ideology.”

“We are grateful to Dr. McClay for his blunt assessment of Minnesota’s standards and hope this outside review will cause the Minnesota Department of Education to return to the drawing board and start over,” says Catrin Wigfall, education policy fellow at Center of the American Experiment.

Highlights of Wilfred McClay’s criticism of the Minnesota draft social studies standards include:

  • The standards do not focus on what unites us, but what divides us.
  • They make “radical political activism,” not academic knowledge and the cultivation of civic identity, the goal of education.
  • They introduce a new “fifth strand” titled Ethnic Studies, which is not a valid academic discipline.
  • The standards place race at the center of learning.
  • The standards eliminate basic facts of history and geography that students need to become informed citizens.
  • The standards require teachers to become political propagandists.
  • The standards are not “clear,” “objective” and “measurable,” as Minnesota statute requires, and will be virtually useless to teachers.

McClay concludes his report with a recommendation to “jettison the standards and start over.”

Click the “Download PDF” button to read the rest of the report.