TRAVERSE CITY — So long Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
So long Roe v. Wade.
So long climate change.
And the word democratic.
The first draft of the Michigan Department of Education’s K-12 social studies standards was released May 9, but only recently has the public become aware of the full scope of the changes to the proposed curriculum.
Last week, a spotlight hit the 142-page document, a volume ripe with lines struck through references of government’s role in guaranteeing freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of press. So to were references to the Underground Railroad, women’s rights activists and the suffrage movement as well as emerging civil rights of immigrants and the LGBTQ community.
The process to revise the 2007 standards began nearly five years ago with the involvement of social studies educators and administrators at both the K-12 and collegiate level and the Michigan Council on Social Studies. That group of writers and reviewers released a draft in 2015 that caught the eye of Republican Sen. Patrick Colbeck.
Colbeck submitted a 13-page document signed by 17 other legislators voicing their concerns with the recommended standards and expressing an interest in being involved in putting together the next draft. Michigan Department of Education officials invited Sen. Colbeck to be part of a focus group, which steered the 2018 proposal.
Colbeck, conservative candidate for governor, took issue with what he contends is a liberal bias in the existing standards. He invited other conservatives to join the focus group without the knowledge or permission of MDE officials.
MDE Senior Executive Policy Advisor Linda Forward could not provide an answer as to why MDE officials were not aware of Colbeck’s actions. Andrew Sias, Kingsley world history teacher and member of the focus group, said others expressed concerns about the group’s presence.
“One of the social studies consultants leaned over to me and said, ‘Looks like Sen. Colbeck brought his posse,’” Sias said. “There was an entourage he brought with him that had an influence.”
Sias said Colbeck’s influence could have been “disastrous” if it were not for the voices of social studies teachers, consultants and representatives from such groups as the Arab American National Museum, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society.
“They were sharp enough to steer that wheel a little bit more to the middle of the road,” Sias said.
Others do not see these proposed changes as even close to the middle of the road.
“They’re skewed to the beliefs of the far-right Republican party,” state Rep. Larry Inman said.
The inclusion of a politician in the creation of the standards baffled Inman, who represents the 104th District, including Grand Traverse County. Inman understood why experts in the field were invited to write and review the drafts, but he believes political and partisan presence was inappropriate.
The reality is Colbeck and other conservative-leaning activists such as Citizens for Traditional Values President James Muffett were part of the process for nearly three years. MDE officials never reached out to or considered reaching out to Democrat legislators or activists, according to Forward, who responded “no” when pressed.
Colbeck said the uproar over the proposed changes is liberals throwing a “conniption fit” over an attempt to ensure education standards are “politically neutral and accurate.” Inman, a Republican, said not seeking out the Democrats’ input made him uncomfortable about both the process and product being presented.
“I don’t agree with the decision of bringing in anyone with political affiliations and especially one that is one-sided without having a reflection of all,” Inman said. “They’re taking one viewpoint and trying to cast it in stone.”
Rose Gallagher, the Traverse City Area Public Schools social studies district leader, said TCAPS educators will teach to the state standards as outlined by Michigan, including the new curriculum if MSBE members approve it during the Aug. 8 meeting.
“As a public school, that is our responsibility,” she said. “While we do not take a position on issues, what we rather do is teach students how to be critical thinkers.”
Gallagher said social studies educators are teaching students to review evidence, analyze the information presented and draw conclusions.
Others within the district bristle at the proposed omissions of slavery and indentured servants as examples of the emerging labor force in the American colonies, the March on Washington, Montgomery bus boycott and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Talk about taking a step back in time,” Traverse City East social studies teacher Bryan Burns said. “I’m sure there is going to be a lot of pushback.”
Colbeck also urged for the removal of “democratic” from “core democratic values” contending it has a liberal connotation. Democratic, however, refers to supporting democracy and its principles — not the Democrat party.
“For decades we’ve taught core democratic values, and for him to look at that term and say that it’s partisan to have the word democratic in there certainly points to his (Colbeck’s) lack of education and how he’s politicizing this,” East social studies teacher Alison Sullivan said. “It makes me question what he’s afraid of by omitting information about history.”
Teachers still are free to choose examples pertaining to each subject, but those will not be included on state tests.
“We’re not trying to restrict the art of teaching in the classroom,” said Rebecca Baker-Bush, president of the Michigan Council on Social Studies. “We’re not trying to censor by eliminating some examples. Teachers have to make decisions based on their clientele.”
Republicans won two open seats on the Michigan State Board of Education in 2016 and unseated President Kathleen Straus, who opted not to run for re-election, leaving the board with an even 4-4 split.
Michael Libbe, director of the Michigan Geographic Alliance and a writer/reviewer of the 2018 draft, said the election swayed the writers and reviewers to come up with proposed standards that the state board would pass.
“There were other aspects where both I and some of the other educators said we don’t agree with this, but elections make a difference,” Libbe said. “Most of us would say there are things we don’t like.”
Elections or not, Sias said politicians cannot be allowed to dictate education.
“I do have some concerns about the precedent that may be set allowing politicians to write standards,” Sias said.
State officials will field public feedback through June 30 and will analyze the responses before a vote to adopt the standards Aug. 8. The vote could be pushed back if major changes are considered.
“If the common message is tweak, then we’ll tweak. If the common message is we need some wholesale changes … we would take that into our leadership and August goes away,” Forward said. “We’ve already invested four years, why not longer? We want to get it right.”
TCAPS Superintendent Paul Soma is steadfast against political influence on education standards. He said the district will provide input before the potential vote.
“We, as an organization, will weigh in very strongly on this once we are really able to understand what it means,” Soma said. “We’ll be on top of it very quickly and will have our voices heard.”
Those interested in providing feedback can do so at www.michigan.gov/socialstudies.
Notable proposed changes to social studies standards
n Removing “democratic” from “core democratic values.”
n Removing protecting individual rights, promoting the common good, ensuring equal treatment under the law as examples of how Michigan fulfills the purpose of government.
n Removing examples of what the government does, the basic values and principles of American democracy, the relationship of the United States to other nations, and the role of the citizen in American democracy.
n Removing freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of the press as examples of rights guaranteed by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
n Removing cash crop farming, slavery and indentured servants as examples of the emerging labor force in the American colonies.
n Removing references to the environmental affects of human action on the atmosphere (air), biosphere (people, animals, plants), lithosphere (soil) and hydrosphere (water).
n Removing equality, rule of law, unalienable rights, limited government, social compact theory and the right of revolution as examples of the Constitution’s core values.
n Removing Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, the Underground Railroad, John Brown, Michigan’s role in the Underground Railroad as examples of the resistance of slaves.
n Removing the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th amendments as examples of major changes to the Constitution.
n Removing analysis of the successes and failures to expand women’s rights, including the work of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Jane Addams, and the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
n Removing certain mentions of the integration of the U.S. military and baseball, the Civil Rights Act (1957), the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington, freedom rides and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
n Referring to the expansion of rights for some groups as infringing on the rights and freedoms of others.
n Removing opportunities to debate/write about welfare, energy, health care, education and civil rights policies.
n Removing Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the Equal Rights Amendment as examples of the core values of liberty, justice and equality.
n Removing mentions of landmark Supreme Court cases such as Roe v. Wade, Miranda v. Arizona, Plessy v. Ferguson, Marbury v. Madison, U.S. v. Nixon and others.
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