Michigan is revamping its social studies standards for K-12 public schools, but some of the proposed revisions have sparked criticism after conservative Republicans pushed language changes, including the removal of the word “democratic” in the phrase “core democratic values.”
Among the other changes — which are open for public comment before being finalized by state education officials — are the jettisoning of the words “climate change” from some standards as well “Roe v. Wade” and some seminal moments of the civil rights movement. The Ku Klux Klan is mentioned in the proposed new standards, but not as often or specifically as in the earlier standards.
The 2007 standard about the expansion of civil rights for minorities in the 20th century included specific references to Native Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, and gays and lesbians. They were removed in the proposed new standards, while language was added saying that the expansion of civil rights for some groups can be seen as “an infringement of rights and freedoms” of others.
The Michigan Education Department has been working for years on revising the social studies standards, which cover history, geography and civics. But conservatives, led by state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R), pushed for changes, as first reported by Bridge Magazine, part of the nonprofit Center for Michigan.
Colbeck, who is running for governor, was part of a focus group convened by the Michigan Education Department to examine the proposed standards after he and other legislators complained they were partisan. Bridge reported he invited some conservatives to sit on it with him. Colbeck told Bridge he wanted the standards to be nonpartisan, but some people said he went too far:
“Some believed that even using the word ‘democratic’ implied partisan leanings,” said Rebecca Baker-Bush, a social studies consultant with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District who served on the standards committee and who is also president of the Michigan Council on the Social Studies. “That was a new one on me.”
Baker-Bush, however, supports adoption of the new standards, according to mlive.com, saying teachers can still teach subject matter not in the standards.
But thousands of people have signed a petition on Change.org urging the State Board of Education to reject the proposed standards, saying in part:
It is crucial that the children of Michigan receive a comprehensive, accurate and inclusive picture of our history and heritage as a state and as a nation. The proposed revisions endanger that goal. The proposal attempts to not only rewrite standards, but rewrite history. If approved, the standards would do lasting damage to our state, by undermining the historical ground on which we stand.
In an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press, three professors at Michigan State University’s College of Education said the proposed standards have a lot of virtues but some of the changes pushed by conservatives should be rethought. For example, they said the removal of “democratic” from “core democratic values” is important.
The term “core values” is ambiguous and could connote values in general — personal values such as conscientiousness or religious values such as forgiveness — that, while important, do not suggest the kind of values that provide a unifying creed for all Americans, no matter their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or language.
Core democratic values are derived from the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and other specific documents, speeches and writings of the nation. They include the rights to liberty, equality, the common good (general welfare), diversity (pluralism) and property.
Here are some of the changes, as show in a side-by-side comparison of the old standards and the proposed new ones. There is a note in the standards saying that many of the specifics removed from the standards were put instead in an “examples” column that teachers can draw from if they choose.
The word “democratic” was removed in some standards, reflecting Colbeck’s view that the United States is not a democracy but a republic, according to a list of his proposed revisions (see in full below).
Here are Colbeck’s proposed changes:
Here are side-by-side comparisons of the old standards and the proposed new ones, from the Michigan Department of Education:
Here are the proposed new standards in full: