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Every 10 years, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) revises K-12 academic standards. This year is social studies' turn.

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by Katherine Kersten

In the latest issue of Thinking Minnesota, Katherine Kersten and Catrin Wigfall provide unparalled analysis of how progressives want to rewrite how students learn about their American heritage.

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The new Ethnic Studies strand divides students by race, focuses on oppression and is not allowed under state law. 

The new draft still paints a very negative view of the United States of America. 

The public comment period on the second draft of social studies standards has ended. 

Over 17,000 Minnesotans submitted comments to the standards committee from this site. 

Your voice has been heard - The committee acknowledged the massive wave of comments during a live meeting. 

We now wait for a third draft! 

Over 17,000 Minnesotans sent the following letter to the committee on the second draft of standards.

Dear Minnesota Social Studies Standards Committee:

Thank you for listening to the concerns of thousands of Minnesotans about the deficiencies in the first draft of K-12 academic standards in social studies. I appreciate the improvements made to the second draft, including the document dropping references to “whiteness” and bringing in more objective facts of history, including the key facts of World Wars I and II and the Holocaust. 

Despite these changes, I am writing today to express continued concern about the second draft of the social studies standards and benchmarks. Direct application of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is evident throughout the second draft, especially with the addition of an Ethnic Studies strand.

The theme of oppression, marginalization, group identity, and absent narratives drives the second draft standards and benchmarks. Students will learn that their self-concept centers around their racial/gender group identity, and that limiting oppression narratives, not facts, is the lens through which all social studies content should be viewed. This is Critical Race Theory in action, and it must be rooted out of the standards!

The following specific changes would restore balance to the draft social studies standards and create a document all Minnesotans can be proud of:

Remove Ethnic Studies Strand
Ethnic Studies is defined by MDE as “understanding multiple perspectives,” but the language used in draft two within this strand places an overt focus on oppression and marginalization. 

For example, 4th graders will look at colonization through an oppression lens.

4.5.22.1 Identify the processes and impacts of colonization and examine how discrimination and the oppression of various racial and ethnic groups have produced resistance movements.

Middle schoolers will also focus on systemic oppression. 

6.5.23.3 Identify and explain how discrimination based on race, gender, economic, and social group identity created and continues to affect the history, health, growth, and current experience of residents of Minnesota.          

High schoolers will learn that capital accumulation and oppression/racism are connected by analyzing “racial capitalism.”        

9.5.24.2 Examine the characteristics of freedom movements; develop an analysis of racial capitalism, political economy, anti-Blackness, Indigenous sovereignty, illegality and indignity. 

There is also language within the Ethnic Studies content that is too mature for the K-12 level. A 1st grade benchmark has students “construct meaning” of advanced concepts.

1.5.23.1 Construct meaning of the terms ethnicity, equality, liberation and systems of power and identify examples. 

Negative View of America

Similar to draft one of the social studies standards, the second draft lacks positive language regarding the United States of America and how it compares to other countries around the world.

For example, several benchmarks refer to U.S. “imperialism,” but there are no references to the U.S. system of government and how it compares to other governmental frameworks tried around the world.

Fourth graders will have to:

4.5.24.1 Analyze anti-colonial and anti-racist resistance movements of culturally, racially and ethnically diverse people throughout the world.

Middle schoolers will learn that colonization “led to the exploitation and genocide of indigenous peoples and the theft of indigenous lands.” (5.4.21.1)

Oppression & Identity

History Standards 18 and 20 and Ethnic Studies Standard 22 set the stage for this theme by having students “evaluate dominant and non-dominant narratives” … “and why some narratives have been marginalized while others have not”; consider “what perspectives and narratives are absent”; and “reflect upon the roots of contemporary social systems and environmental systems of oppressions.”

First graders will have to “identify voices that are not represented in the historical sources” (1.4.20.1); 3rd graders will “identify possible short- and long-term consequences of different choices, while highlighting that not all individuals have access to the same choices” (3.2.9.1); middle schoolers will have to “construct an argument about U.S. expansion and Native dispossession in Minnesota” (6.4.14.1).

The study of geography also includes this theme, including this high school geography benchmark. 

9.3.17.3 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.

Native American Balance

There are at least 60 specific benchmarks dedicated to teaching native or indigenous perspectives. Indigenous people are the only cultural group specifically held up and “centered” in the standards document. Standard 17 states:

Explain sense of place through ways of knowing (culture) and ways of being (identity) from different perspectives, centering Indigenous voices.

The standard says to explain things from different perspectives but also to center indigenous voices. Why are indigenous voices given this special treatment?

The imbalance is particularly evident in the 6th grade, where 21 benchmarks are dedicated to indigenous perspectives. With this draft of the social studies standards, Minnesota history is mainly Native American history.

One example of loaded language in the benchmarks dedicated to native history includes the phrase “the land that is now Minnesota.” It appears twice in the 6th grade benchmarks.

6.3.13.1 Create and interpret fixed and dynamic maps that represent places on the land that is now Minnesota, including representations from different cultural perspectives.

6.3.14.1 Compare and contrast different places and regions on the land that is Minnesota today, including how power structures have impacted each one over time. 

Using the phrase “the land that is Minnesota today” is a confusing way to refer to a territory granted statehood 163 years ago. 

Current Politics in Second Draft

The social studies standards set the stage for what students will learn over the next 10 years so current political issues should not be forced into the benchmarks.

Some benchmarks appear to protect 2nd graders from believing the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election.

2.1.1.1 Participate in a vote by identifying the rules that keep the voting process fair, demonstrating voting skills, accepting the results of the vote and explaining why voting is important.

2.1.2.1 Describe how voting and elections exemplify democratic principles, including, but not limited to, equality, freedom, fairness, respect for individual rights, citizen participation, majority rules and accepting the results of an election.

Accepting the results of an election is a new concept added to the second draft’s benchmarks.

 The issue of immigration is an important topic in social studies, but unfortunately it is covered using very biased language for 7th graders.

7.5.24.2 Investigate the struggle for immigration rights and the rights of all immigrants.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide this feedback and I look forward to future drafts.

Respectfully,

Your Name

Latest Update

Minnesota students deserve education, not indoctrination.

The second draft of social studies standards is published and it is Critical Race Theory in action!

Full analysis by Education Policy Fellow Catrin Wigfall available here.

Examples of Critical Race Theory in the standards can be viewed here.