The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

March 31, 2013

Our View: Social studies standards stand up

— In any academic area, educators have to pick and choose what to teach. Social studies is no different. And after a judge’s wise decision, the state of Minnesota can go ahead and set new social studies standards in place in public schools.

Controversy arose after the proposed standards were criticized for including some material and not emphasizing other information. An administrative law judge was assigned to mediate the case.

Most vocal has been the group Education Liberty Watch, which said the curriculum reflected a liberal and “anti-American” bias. The group complained the standards ignored the concept of “American exceptionalism” and removed the role of God-given rights from the discussion. The group wanted the country’s success to be the emphasis.

But the complaints weren’t just from the right side of the political spectrum. The liberal Southern Poverty Law Center at one point gave the new standards an “F” because the state “fails to set high expectations for students and provide direction to teachers” on what students should learn about the civil rights movement.

So instead of nitpicking all the particulars of what the curriculum should and shouldn’t contain, the judge focused on whether the Department of Education made rational choices. She ruled that it did, knowing very well that there will be disagreement about what material is most important in such controversial areas as economics, history and government.

The new standards are designed to get away from the rote memorization of dates and names that may well be retained long enough just to take a test. Instead, the standards emphasize concepts students must master.

The revision process, started in late 2010, has not been taken lightly. More than 40 teachers, administrators, professors and business leaders analyzed national studies, student performance data and survey results in forming their recommendations.

People were given a chance to be heard in this process, and hundreds of them weighed in. Two review-and-comment periods, focus groups and analysis by more than a dozen experts were part of the process.

So using the standards as a political football is finally over. Now the standards will go into effect, as they should, in the upcoming school year.

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