A years-long, convoluted battle over new standards for social studies education in Minnesota’s public schools is nearing its end.
The public will have one last opportunity to weigh in on the standards before final adoption, the Center of the American Experiment explained, providing a link to where public comments can be submitted as well as instructions on what those comments can address.
The Minnesota Department of Education quietly published last week a “notice of intent” to adopt its proposed social studies standards in the Minnesota State Register. The same day, the MDE also published a “Statement of Need and Reasonableness,” or SONAR, which purports to explain why the new standards are reasonable and necessary for Minnesota public education.
The SONAR claims that Minnesota needs to “repeal and replace” its 2011 standards because the new standards “reflect continued academic research related to learning and instructional practice, and are responsive to changing needs of society.” But some experts have cast serious doubt on this claim.
The Center of the American Experiment published a scathing report last year by Dr. Wilfred McClay, a nationally renowned expert on K-12 education, which lambasts the revised standards and their corresponding “benchmarks,” stating that “the radical ideological assumptions behind [the revised standards] amount to a repudiation of everything that the serious study of history and civics has ever meant in this country, or any country.”
“Can these Standards be repaired, adjusted, and made compatible with the fundamental aims of civic education as it has been? I do not think so,” McClay writes in the report. “I think they are so fundamentally flawed that the only solution is to jettison them and start over, using the 2004 Standards as a guideline for how the next revision should be done.”
Among the revisions that McClay identifies as problematic is the adoption of a new strand of social studies known as “Ethnic Studies.” During the 2023 session, the Minnesota Legislature passed an education omnibus bill that requires MDE to “embed ethnic studies as related to the academic standards during the review and revision of the required academic standards.”
The legislature defined ethnic studies as “the interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States. Ethnic studies analyzes the ways in which race and racism have been and continue to be social, cultural, and political forces, and the connection of race to the stratification of other groups.” In other words, under this definition, “race and racism” are “forces” which cause “stratification,” that is, different outcomes.
The new benchmarks, which will guide teachers on how to implement the standards, provide insight into what this will look like in practice.
For example, as McClay points out in his report, the benchmarks require first-graders to “[i]dentify examples of ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power, and use those examples to construct meanings for those terms.” They require fourth-graders to “[i]dentify the processes and impacts of colonization and examine how discrimination and the oppression of various racial and ethnic groups have produced resistance movements.”
By ninth grade, students are required to “examine the impact of U.S. imperialism and foreign policy on immigration patterns,” “examine the construction of racialized hierarchies based on colorism and dominant European beauty standards and values,” and “develop an analysis of racial capitalism, political economy, anti-Blackness, indigenous sovereignty, illegality, and indigeneity.”
Left behind, as McClay writes, are “the key events, actors and ideas that shaped American democracy and the larger world,” so much so that the “leadership of George Washington, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, the battles at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill are never named.”
“It is oppression narratives as far as the eye can see. It is astonishing how much is being left out in the process. There is almost no attention to the foundational facts of American and European history,” he writes.
The MDE’s published notice also provides an opportunity for the public to request a hearing on the standards before an administrative law judge, who will rule on whether the standards can be implemented. In order for a hearing to take place, at least 25 Minnesotans must request a hearing. Requests for a hearing must be in writing and sent directly to the agency contact person at firstname.lastname@example.org, no later than 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.
The request must include the requester’s name and address, as well as an identification of the portion of the proposed rules to which an objection is made or a statement that a person opposes the entire set of rules. Any request that does not comply with these requirements is invalid, and the agency cannot count it when determining whether it must hold a public hearing.