(Center of the American Experiment) — The third draft of the social studies standards is out, and MDE will soon begin the formal rulemaking process that will entrench them in Minnesota’s K-12 classrooms.
The bad news is that — though there have been some tweaks — the standards are the same in all essentials. They are driven by the themes of Critical Race Theory: group identity based on race; life as a power struggle between oppressors and victims; and American history as a shameful story of domination, marginalization and injustice.
Ideology has replaced the basic factual knowledge students need to be informed citizens.
The good news is that American Experiment is gearing up for a long-haul fight as the standards wend their way through the rule-making process. That will take 18 months to two years, and will include “multiple opportunities” for public comments and potential changes. There will be a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge before formal adoption.
There are two ways to make your voice heard on the third draft social studies standards.
The first is easy — sign our petition and send a message to the Minnesota Department of Education and the Office of Administrative Hearings. You can sign your name to our prepared text or personalize it with your own thoughts. Click here to sign the petition urging changes to the third draft. The MDE comment period closes on Dec. 14, 2021, and your comments will be sent to both MDE and the Office of Administrative Hearings.
The second way to make your voice heard is to engage directly with the Office of Administrative Hearings through their open comment process. Commenters can join an ongoing discussion Minnesotans are having about the current draft of the standards. You can even attach documents to your comments as you make your argument. The Administrative Law Judge will read all of the comments before making a decision. Click here to create a profile and join the discussion. This comment period closes on Jan. 14, 2022.
The primary vehicle for CRT ideology in the third draft is “Ethnic Studies.” In the second draft, MDE’s drafting committee added this highly politicized “fifth strand” to the four Social Studies content areas named in state law, and MDE has now incorporated it in the final draft. As a result, it appears Minnesota is poised to become one of a handful of states that require the radical Ethnic Studies agenda for all grades.
The first Ethnic Studies standard (Std. 23) teaches that a student’s personal identity is determined by his or her group status:
- “Identity: Analyze the ways power and language construct the social identities of race, religion, geography, ethnicity and gender. Apply these understandings to one’s own social identities and other groups living in Minnesota, centering those whose stories and histories have been marginalized, erased or ignored.”
The second and third standards (Std. 24 and Std. 25) require students to organize to “resist” America’s “systemic” abuse of power against “marginalized,” “oppressed” groups:
- “Resistance: Describe how individuals and communities have fought for freedom and liberation against systemic and coordinated exercises of power locally and globally … and organize with others to engage in activities that could further the rights and dignity of all;” and
- “Ways of Knowing: Use ethnic and indigenous studies methods in order to understand the roots of contemporary systems of oppression and apply lessons from the past to eliminate historical and contemporary injustices.”
How will radical Ethnic Studies standards play out in Minnesota classrooms?
- Kindergartners must “retell a story about an unfair experience that conveys a power imbalance.” (K.5.24.1)
- First-graders must “Identify examples of ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power, and use those examples to construct meanings for those terms.” (126.96.36.199)
High school students will be required to:
- “Analyze how caste systems based upon race, social class, and religion have been used to justify imperialism, colonization, warfare, and chattel slavery; how those caste systems and justifications have changed over time; and how they influence our society today,” (188.8.131.52) and
- “Examine the construction of racialized hierarchies based on colorism and dominant European beauty standards and values.” (184.108.40.206)
Like earlier drafts, the third draft replaces objective historical knowledge — facts about the key events and figures of the past — with a fixation on “dominant and non-dominant narratives” and “absent voices.” Students will graduate largely ignorant of the events and leaders that shaped America and the world, but primed to view our nation with reflexive suspicion and hostility.
The third draft continues MDE’s reframing of American history as a woeful tale of “colonialism,” slavery, racism and imperialism. For example:
- The American Revolution is mentioned five times, but George Washington, Paul Revere, Bunker Hill and Lexington and Concord are never named. Instead, students “analyze dominant and non-dominant narratives,” “examine Black, indigenous or women’s perspectives,” etc.
- The draft is silent on America’s role in World War II, and students learn nothing about Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, or D-Day.
- It also omits the September 11 attacks. But it does require students to “identify and evaluate how governmental and non-governmental institutions have responded to foreign and domestic terrorism in the United States, including xenophobia and Islamophobia.” (220.127.116.11)
According to MDE, one of its primary goals in the third draft was an increased focus on Native Americans. To say this was accomplished is an understatement.
The draft now reflects a relentless fixation with the topic. In MDE’s words, “The contributions of Minnesota’s American Indian tribes and communities are integrated into each strand and all standards.”
The result is a striking imbalance in the time and attention students will devote to indigenous-related topics, in both Minnesota and U.S. history. Our state’s history has largely been reduced to a focus on the Dakota and Anishinaabe people, generally through a “power and oppression” lens.
- Fourth-graders who study states and capitals must also “recogniz[e] indigenous lands these places were built on.”
- High school students must “evaluate the impact of spatial decisions on policies affecting historically marginalized communities of color and Indigenous nations and take action to affect policy.”
Not surprisingly, “loaded” language directs students “what to think,” not “how to think” on Native American topics. For example, students are required to:
- “Examine how native people have contested narratives of erasure that have silenced their histories,” (18.104.22.168) and
- “Compare historical memorialization of ‘pioneers’ and frontiers versus dispossession and homelands.” (22.214.171.124)
The third draft, like earlier drafts, eliminates the most basic facts of world history from the K-12 curriculum.
- Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, Napoleon and the Russian Revolution receive no mention.
- The Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution — both world-transforming developments — appear only once: to highlight the role that Islam played. (“Identify the influence of Islamic centers of learning on the European Renaissance, the scientific revolution and society today.”) (126.96.36.199)
- On World War II, students learn almost nothing about the war itself, since the third draft omits the second draft’s benchmark on the war’s “causes and conduct, including the nations involved, major political and military figures and key battles.” The Holocaust gets similar superficial treatment.
- The draft is silent on the Soviet Union and its gulags, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields and North Korea. Instead, it reserves a tone of outrage for U.S. “imperialism” and “oppression.”
- The third draft does include two new benchmarks on world religions, apparently added in response to public pressure.
Overall, the standards give Western Civilization short-shrift — and with it the unique history that produced contemporary democracy — in favor of a vague and largely contentless “global” focus.
MDE’s decision to eliminate basic factual knowledge from the Social Studies curriculum extends to the third draft’s geography standards. Minnesota students will no longer learn the names and location of continents, the Pacific Ocean, the Amazon, the Rocky Mountains, France or India. Instead, they will “describe places and regions, explaining how they are influenced by power structures.” (Std. 14)
For example, in geography class:
- Middle-schoolers will “evaluate political, economic, spatial and historical perspectives used to justify the displacement/removal of indigenous people.” (188.8.131.52)
- High school students will “explain the social construction of race and how it was used to oppress people of color and assess how social policies and economic forces offer privilege or systematic oppressions for racial/ethnic groups related to accessing social, political, economic and spatial opportunities.” (184.108.40.206)
Activism and ‘Resistance’
An exception to the absence of basic factual knowledge in the third draft is the Citizenship strand’s treatment of the American system of government. This may be because state law requires schools to prepare students to pass an exam with questions drawn from the U.S. Citizenship test. The Economics strand also requires some mastery of facts.
Otherwise, the standards’ vision of Social Studies as a narrative of “oppression” seems geared, in large part, toward preparing students for political activism, and what the second Ethnic Studies standard (Std. 24) calls “resistance.”
The third draft’s focus on crime, policing and the juvenile justice system exemplifies this:
- Students start, in fifth-grade, by “examin[ing] contemporary policing and explor[ing] its historical roots in early America.” (220.127.116.11)
- In sixth grade, they “describe the goals, offenses, penalties, long-term consequences, privacy concerns of Minnesota’s juvenile justice system and evaluate the impact on youth, including those from historically disenfranchised groups.” (18.104.22.168)
- In high school, they “examine conflicting perspectives about the impact of federal policies and legislation on American society,” including “criminal justice” and “incarceration.” (22.214.171.124)
- They conclude by “explor[ing] how criminality is constructed and what makes a person a criminal.” (126.96.36.199)
This ideologically driven instruction will likely generate fear and resentment in students of some racial/ethnic groups, and convince them that policing and criminality are “racially constructed.”
MDE claims the vision of Social Studies enshrined in the third draft will “rigorously” prepare Minnesota’s young people for college and career. Not likely.
The American Federation of Teachers once defined indoctrination as “the deliberate exclusion or distortion of studies in order to induce belief by irrational means.” This appears to be the true mission of the proposed Social Studies standards.
Katherine Kersten, a writer and attorney, is a Senior Policy Fellow at Center of the American Experiment. She served as a Metro columnist for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) from 2005 to 2008 and as an opinion columnist for the paper for 15 years between 1996 and 2013. She was a founding director of the Center and served as its chair from 1996 to 1998.