Social Studies committee uncomfortable with public scrutiny

The Social Studies Standards Committee appointed by Gov. Tim Walz held their second meeting last week and picked up right where they left off, spending most of the meeting discussing adding Ethnic Studies as a new category of standards. Ethnic Studies would compete for valuable classroom time with history, economics, civics and geography.

Before the Ethnic Studies conversation, we did get a brief update on how the committee is processing all the feedback they received. Two positive developments on the next draft:

First, the committee voiced support for putting several key historical content areas back in the next draft, specifically mentioning the Holocaust and World War II.

More broadly, committee member Katharine Gerbner of the University of Minnesota offered this comment:

“I also want to make it clear that representations of groups and histories that have been excluded from previous standards does not equal the erasure of traditionally represented groups and histories.”

This sounds encouraging for those concerned about the elimination of important historical concepts, but the reality is, there is only so much time in the day for teaching social studies. So adding new concepts will by default eliminate current standards. The whole exercise is about making those important choices.

Which leads us to an earlier point we made about the direction and make-up of the standards committee. According to Professor Gerbner, discussing the direction and make-up of the committee is racist:

I want everyone listening here to know that that there were also harmful and racist comments made as well and in some cases individuals and organizations that submitted comments also posted their commentary online and on social media. And here it’s really important to differentiate between the drafts and the people on the committee. We should be having a conversation about the ideas and the actual standards and benchmarks. This is a really important conversation, and it is one that is contentious, and this is a Democratic process, will disagree, that’s fine. But some individuals and organizations have crossed the line by also targeting individual members of the committee. So specifically, there are blog posts that criticized indigenous members of our committee for simply being on the committee. They then provide the names and workplaces of those committee members. In another case, an organization recorded specific members of the committee speaking, especially people of color, and then circulated those recordings with misleading headlines to thousands of Minnesotans along with the names of those committee members.

It’s clear she is referring to these two blog posts where we discussed the make-up of the standards committee and how the imbalance of voices from Native Americans and “equity” organizations was influencing the draft.

To understand Tim Walz’s new social studies standards, just look at who wrote them

To understand the new social studies standards, just look at who wrote them (Part 2)

The posts did not criticize indigenous members for simply being on the committee. In fact, the criticism was leveled at Gov. Walz:

Tim Walz stacked the social studies standards committee to make a “shift in approach to standards and social studies learning.” That shift resulted in a document disproportionately focused on Native American studies to the detriment of other important social studies concepts.

As for naming their workplaces, it’s actually material to why they’re on the committee. They are representing their workplaces and organizations in the standards process. It’s also a matter of public record, listed on the roster of committee members published by the Minnesota Department of Education. When you agree to serve on a public committee appointed by the governor through his Department of Education, your name and organization is going to be public.  

The standards committee has been struggling with transparency issues like this from the beginning. Their two public meetings have been broadcast on the Department’s Youtube channel and immediately removed after the meeting. That’s a very unusual practice for a state committee deciding important policy. If American Experiment hadn’t recorded the first meeting, the public would not have heard how dismissive the committee was to public feedback.

Professor Gerbner called out our recording in her comments last week:

If you are someone who is currently recording individual comments and is thinking about taking them out of context, naming individuals, if you have information on a website about personal information about anyone on this committee about their workplaces, if you are circulating that information, please know that these actions are directly leading to harassment and please stop.

American Experiment will not stop recording public meetings. We will not stop sharing the names and organizations making public policy that impacts what our children are being taught in schools. We will not stop sharing our analysis of the changes to public policy put forward by a committee appointed by Gov. Walz and his Department of Education. It’s basically our mission.