Detroit Public Schools Community District does not endorse the proposed changes to the Michigan Department of Education’s Social Studies Standards. While many of the proposed content changes are identical, or similar to existing expectations, collectively, the changes that were made are concerning. This is especially the case when considering that the majority of changes minimize the historical role that minority groups have played to hold the country accountable to its ideals. These are meaningful facts and experiences that reaffirm not only the true history of our country for the majority of students in our district but are necessary to allow all students in the State, regardless of background, to learn and reflect on the actual history of our country. We are living in an unfortunate era when real facts and history are not respected. This is a danger to the principles of democracy and freedom. Our youth must learn the contributions of all people and that resistance to power has allowed the country to improve.
Language matters. In an attempt to streamline and provide focus, the proposed Standards have created ambiguity at best, and marginalization at worst. The most notable shifts in the Standards are the removal of contextualization through examples. It can be argued that the changing of examples and the removal of specific references to history do not change the meaning of the standards. However, examples and details shape one’s scope of reference, especially in the classroom, when examples are often used as the foundation from which a lesson is built.
Some specific examples of dangerous changes include:
- In Economics, specific historical references to Israel/Palestine, Kashmir, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, al Qaeda, Shining Path, Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia were removed.
- Specific minority groups are not named in the new expectations. For example, post-World War II era references eliminate American Indians, Latinos, new immigrants, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ community as examples of minority groups that have experienced gains and setbacks in civil rights and liberties. Language was added to the section detailing how the expansion of rights for some groups “can be viewed as an infringement of religious rights and freedoms of others.”
- Specific legislation, including mention of the Environmental Protection Agency, is left out.
- Multiple changes were made to the Progressivism and Reform section of content expectations. In 6.3.3. of the old expectations, “Women’s Suffrage” is replaced with more generic Constitutional Changes. 6.3.2. is now in the language of 6.6.3. The new expectations introduce Conservative policies and Women’s Suffrage is lumped in with Amendments 16-18, as part of the Progressive Era.
- The proposed standards strike the term “core democratic values,” and instead use the term “core values” throughout the document. Sen. Patrick Colbeck pushed for the change, arguing the U.S. system of government is a “republic,” not a democracy.
- A section of the standards pertaining to domestic policies in post-World War II America strikes a reference to several historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
- The Standards scale back the number of times the Ku Klux Klan is mentioned from twice to once. It was eliminated as an example in a section of the Standards where teachers were urged to teach students about what can happen in the breakdown of the rule of law.
- References to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were cut in at least two instances — once in a section covering the progressive era and another time in a section covering civil rights in post-World War II America. A reference to the group — and its legal battles against segregation — was added to a section covering America’s growth in the 1920s.
Without clear guidance and direction, teachers, schools, and districts are left to their own discretion to make crucial decisions. These Standards forgo the opportunity to curtail implicit bias and to responsibly educate students about our country’s historically marginalized and underrepresented people, most controversial decisions, and most fiercely-debated beliefs.
We believe it is in the best interest of all children that the proposed changes for social studies content be reconsidered. Regardless of the outcome of this situation, we as a district will ensure that all students in our schools learn the history of all people and that our curriculum choices explicitly lift our country’s most controversial decisions and inflection points.
Nikolai Vitti, Ed.D.