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

Deciding what should be taught to students in grades K-12 is not an easy task, especially when it comes to a politically charged subject like social studies. There are only so many instructional hours in the career of a K-12 student and it is impossible to teach every student about every topic in history, civics, geography and economics.

Acknowledging the challenge, however, does not excuse the current social studies standards committee from releasing draft benchmarks and standards that lurch to the left and leave out historically important topics in favor of today’s version of political correctness.

In 2003, Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke put together a social studies standards committee representing teachers, parents, higher education and business. With this year’s committee (appointed by Gov. Tim Walz), the parents and business representatives have been replaced with people from Native American organizations and liberal groups fighting for their version of “equity.”

Even though Native Americans make up less than 2 percent of Minnesota’s population, the 2020 standards committee includes eight representatives of Native American tribes or organizations – almost 20% of the entire committee.

Antonio Arce, Leech Lake Tribal College

Ronald Buckanaga, White Earth Reservation

Maria Burnett, Grand Portage Reservation Tribal Council

Dana Goodwin, White Earth Reservation

Barry Hand, Bdote Learning Center

Joycelyn Shingobe, Nay Ah Shing School -Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe

Beth Tepper, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC)

Travis Vake, Bois Forte Tribal Government

Once you realize the makeup of the committee, you begin to understand why the 2020 social studies document includes a new standard dedicated to the status of indigenous people and three times as many benchmarks covering the Anishinaabe and Dakota people. The draft also begins with this eyebrow-raising statement in the preamble:

Minnesota is the contemporary and ancestral home of the Anishinaabe and Dakota peoples, and social studies education on this land will acknowledge and honor their contemporary and historical voices.

Let’s be clear: Gov. Tim Walz wants all social studies standards to be viewed through the lens of “honoring” the Anishinaabe and Dakota people. This is a radical change to the way we teach history, civics, geography and economics in Minnesota.

This is not to say Native American history should be excluded from the social studies standards. Minnesota students should definitely learn the history and contributions of the Anishinaabe and Dakota people in our state – even when that history is hard to acknowledge. It was included in the original draft in 2003 and continued in the 2011 version being taught today.

But with 39 benchmarks addressing these topics in the proposed draft, the pendulum has swung too far, putting the document out of balance. Remember, each new benchmark dealing with Native American history pushes out a benchmark on World War I, World War II, communism, socialism, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Holocaust (all left out of the new draft).

Some examples of new benchmarks “acknowledging and honoring” the contemporary and historical voices of the Anishinaabe and Dakota people:

The “absent narrative” concept can be found throughout the new draft.

  • Describe how people lived at a particular time in the past, based on information found in historical sources; introduce the concept of an absent narrative, and consider how some voices and perspectives are not represented in historical sources.
  • Compare and contrast 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.

The new benchmarks are littered with loaded phrases like theft, tactics, forced removal, genocide and displacement, leaving little room for learning or interpretation.

  • Analyze historical sources created by Native Americans in order to examine how indigenous people responded to changes in federal Indian policy, especially regarding forced removal, sovereignty, land ownership, education and assimilation.
  • Describe how rivalries among European nations and their search for new opportunities fueled expanding global trade networks and, in North America, colonization and settlement and the exploitation and genocide of indigenous peoples and theft of indigenous lands. … labor of abducted and enslaved Africans
  • Describe the tactics used by the United States government to claim indigenous and Mexican land, including but not limited to an analysis of the ideology of Manifest Destiny and its relationship to whiteness, Christianity, and capitalism; and analyze the strategies used by Native Americans and Mexicans to respond to US settler colonialism.
  • Define political, economic, spatial and historical perspectives and apply them to the boundary disputes and genocide that occurred in the past within the land that is Minnesota today.
  • Evaluate political, economic, spatial and historical perspectives used to justify the displacement/removal of indigenous peoples throughout the past in the United States.
  • Explain that trade between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples has not always been voluntary and fair.

It’s obvious in the benchmarks where the Walz administration comes down on rewriting history and renaming everything to match today’s modern sensibilities. Again, no room for learning or interpretation.

  • Analyze why different groups consider landmarks as significant or traumatic
  • Explain that many ways of thinking about geographic space exist, including Dakota and Anishinaabe perspectives.
  • Analyze how different perspectives influenced past decisions to name places and impact changing place names today.

Bottom line: 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.

Read more about the committee here.