Students won’t be prepared for civic life if taught social studies through one-side narrative

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht had an op-ed in the Alexandria Echo Press recently (“Commentary: Preparing students for civic life shouldn’t be so controversial,” July 17) that stated Minnesota’s proposed K-12 social studies standards are a “more diverse view of history, economics, geography and other social studies disciplines” and will help “prepare our students to be informed citizens.”

…[I]t’s fair to say the proposed changes are more thought-provoking and recognize more of the state’s racial and cultural past than the existing standards. There is more Native American history, for example.

Specht continues by claiming that pushback and concern over the draft standards are attempts “to deny students a more truthful look at Minnesota’s history.”

We just want the freedom to present a fuller, more honest picture of our state and nation — the kind and cruel, the generous and noble — because we’re educating the leaders of tomorrow.

Students should absolutely learn about the good, the bad and the ugly of America’s complex history. But the draft standards do not capture this “fuller” picture of history. Instead, the document presents history through a one-sided narrative in which one perspective dominates. The draft standards fail to give young people the broad historical context they need to put their own nation’s flaws into perspective, and the positive aspects of American history are not included.

For example, nowhere in the draft “is there anything that suggests that the United States system of government is better than any other system tried around the world, nothing that would suggest a student could feel good about living under this governmental framework,” writer Tom West points out. “Why is it that so many more people want to come here than want to leave?”

High schoolers, though, will be required to explain that Europeans invented “whiteness” and that America’s 19th-century westward expansion was the disgraceful product of “whiteness, Christianity, and capitalism.”

History is presented as a one-dimensional power struggle between oppressive whites and victimized non-whites. “Identity” is the lens through which social studies will be taught.

The draft document also starts its readiness statement with a “land acknowledgement.” Native American history matters and should be included in social studies but, as West continues,

it is an exceptionally narrow view of what a mission statement should be. Minnesota today has a multitude of ethnic groups and an opening statement should be more broadly worded, either including what is hoped for all of the other groups, or not mentioning any specific group at all.

There is a strikingly disproportionate emphasis on Indigenous people in the first draft, with many benchmarks promoting Native American activist priorities.

Given that there are only so many instructional hours in the career of a K-12 student, when new content is added, it is often at the expense of other content. These tradeoffs matter.

We will see what the second draft looks like, but if it still includes the negative language that much of the first draft is couched in and prioritizes identity politics, this will not bring Minnesotans together. It will, however, leave students uninformed and also misinformed about our state’s and nation’s history and democratic institutions.