by Harold C. Ford
EVM staff writer Ford, a 44-year veteran of public education, now retired, surveyed the 138-page draft proposal described below and which is available for perusal in full here.
The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is holding a series of nine meetings across the state seeking the public’s input about proposed revisions to the state’s social studies standards. Five hearings have already been held.
The next hearing will be from 6-8 p.m. June 18, at the Erwin L. Davis Education Center of the Genesee Intermediate School District, 2413 W. Maple Ave.
“References to gay rights, Roe v. Wade, climate change and ‘core democratic values’have been stripped from Michigan’s new proposed social studies standards, and the historic role of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) downplayed,”according to a June 12 article in the online publication Bridge, by Ron French and Lindsay VanHulle.
This “conservative twist in Michigan social studies standards,” according to French and VanHulle, is largely due to “the influence of Republican State Sen. Patrick Colbeck and a cadre of conservatives who helped rewrite the standards for public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade.”
Standards are being reviewed as part of a public comment period that ends June 30. State standards set the expectations for what ought to be taught and learned in Michigan’s classrooms. In August, the State Board of Education will receive feedback on the public comments. No date has been set by the board for a final vote on the proposed revisions.
After Flint, the final three meetings on the proposed standards revisions are set for June 19 in Saginaw, June 20 in Waterford, and June 26 in Sault Ste. Marie. Members of the public can also comment online until June 30 here.
The proposed new standards were initially written by a 15-member team of “writers/reviewers,” subject-matter experts from around the state. Then a “focus group”was assembled to review and suggest revisions to the work of the “writers/reviewers.”
Colbeck, a conservative Republican candidate for governor, was added to the group. At least four other prominent conservatives—two reportedly at the behest of Colbeck—were also added to the “focus group.”
Colbeck’s right-of-center political leanings are inarguable. For example, he was sponsor of a bill — eventually vetoed by Gov. Rick Snyder– to allow the Secretary of State to offer a “Choose Life” license plate to Michiganders. He recently claimed Muslims have a “jihad” plot to infiltrate the U.S. government.
No Democratic legislators or activists were asked to join the 21-member “focus group.”
According to Bridge, revisions offered by the “focus group” include the following cuts:
- two references to gays and lesbians in the context of fighting for the rights of minority groups;
- two references to the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to choose an abortion;
- references to climate change;
- five references to the NAACP reduced to two.
The document is roughly divided into three major sections based on grade levels: K-4; 5-8; 9-12.
Standards for grades 9-12 included the following cuts:
- “Russian Revolution, Europe and the Rise of Fascism and Totalitarian States…”
- Specific references to “Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), March on Washington (1963), freedom rides, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Nation of Islam, Black Panthers.”
- References to “American Indians, Latinos/as, new immigrants, people with disabilities, and gays and lesbians.”
Further, language for “Trans-African and Trans-Atlantic Slave Systems”(5.2.2) will be reduced by 39 words. The very next newly-added section (5.2.3), “Growth of Christianity,” is augmented with 47 words.
All mentions of “core democratic values,” “democratic,” or “democracy”was altered or abolished by the group.
“First of all, core democratic values (is) not politically neutral,” Colbeck told Bridge. “I’m not proposing core republican values either.”
The document document is roughly divided into three major sections based on grade levels: K-4; 5-8; 9-12. The K-4 section, pages 8-26, or 19 of the document’s 138 pages, revealed the following:
- The word “democracy”or“democratic”(small-d) is to be excised from that part of the document on nine occasions.
- Some variation of “constitutional republic”will replace the banned d-words.
More cuts in K-4:
Further cuts in the K-4 section of the document include:
- The word “public”is to be cut four times.
- The word “environmental”is to be cut even though it’s used in the context of describing locations in the classroom.
- “Give examples of the use of authority in school (e.g. types of bullying, taking cuts in line).”
- “Ensure the common good.”
- “Independence Day, Constitution Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day.”
- “Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to own property.”
- “Freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of press.”
Common Core no-no:
Dozens of references to “National Geography Standards”were also cut. Anything related to Common Core State Standards, an anathema to many conservative Republicans, is likely to get axed.
“We don’t need standards that tell teachers how to teach,” Colbeck told M-Live’s Brian Smith in 2013. “Teachers go to universities to learn how to teach. Standards should focus on what to teach.”
Common sense suggestions:
Some of the committee’s suggestions that are likely to please, no matter one’s political persuasion, include:
- Replace “American Indians”with “Indigenous People(s)”(Canada’s preferable term for decades as reflected in news stories and statements by government officials);
- New language is to include, “Use case studies or stories to describe the ideas and actions of individuals involved in the Underground Railroad in Michigan and the United States.
EVM Staff Writer Harold Ford is retired from 44 years in public education, 43 in the Beecher schools. He spent 31 years in the classroom. He was the principal founder and director for 10 years of the Beecher Scholarship Incentive Program funded by the Ruth Mott Foundation. He administered Beecher’s 9th Grade Academy for three years. He graduated from Mott CC, UM-Flint, and UM Ann Arbor.