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Center of the American Experiment policy fellow Catrin Wigfall talks about critical race theory in schools during the organization’s “Raise Our Standards” tour stop Wednesday at the Country Inn and Suites.

A conservative group came to Mankato claiming proposed changes to state standards for social studies education would stop teaching about wars and instead implant liberal views on race and equity.

Local educators and a state education official say the group’s claims are misleading or simply false.

The Center of the American Experiment is holding presentations across the state pledging to help parents “push back” against the “woke movement” and the “politicizing of our schools.” A stop Wednesday morning in Mankato was attended by about 80 people.

The Minnesota-based think tank accuses schools of indoctrinating children.

“Under the guise of educational equity, we see this movement turning our classrooms into ideological battlegrounds and threatening the excellence of our children’s education,” American Experiment education policy fellow Catrin Wigfall told the Mankato attendees.

Wigfall argued schools need to refocus their attention on essential subjects.

“We won’t have students prepared to be engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers and electricians if they can’t do reading and math,” Wigfall said. “So why are we preparing them to be social justice warriors?”

She referred to the first draft of an update to state social studies teaching standards.

The Minnesota Department of Education is required by law to review and update curriculum standards in each subject every 10 years. Public schools across the state are required to teach the standards.

The Center of the American Experiment is pointing out previous requirements are not yet mentioned in the first draft, including instruction about world wars and the Holocaust.

“We see today’s version of political correctness being inserted at the expense of key events and ideas that shaped our state and nation’s history,” Wigfall said.

But the first draft of potential revisions released for public feedback in December is far from comprehensive, Assistant Education Commissioner Bobbie Burnham told The Free Press. The document contains 22 broad standards and some prospective benchmarks for each of those standards.

The benchmarks are just examples and were not intended to be exhaustive, Burnham said. A second more complete draft will be released later this summer.

World wars and events of such historical significance absolutely will continue to be taught in public schools, Burnham said. The first draft simply focuses on additions and revisions under consideration, she explained.

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John Hinderaker, president of Center of the American Experiment, answers a question Wednesday in Mankato.

Wigfall and American Experiment President John Hinderaker repeatedly talked about critical race theory — a decades-old academic framework for exploring race and history that has become highly politicized across the country in recent months.

“Critical race theory teaches that the No. 1 most important thing about any person is the color of his skin,” Hinderaker said.

Wigfall likened critical race theory to “race-based Marxism.”

“This is a reformulated version of the Marxist dichotomy of oppressor versus oppressed, class conflict and pitting different groups of people against each other,” she said.

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A full house listens Wednesday to the Center of the American Experiment’s Catrin Wigfall in Mankato.

Two attendees who work in education called the group’s representation of the theory misleading.

Andy Johnson, a faculty member at Minnesota State University’s College of Education, said critical race theory is nothing like Marxism and started in the 1970s, not the 1990s as Wigfall said.

Johnson likened the American Experiment gathering to a “klan rally without the robes.”

East High School social studies teacher Tim Meegan said the central ideas of critical race theory include that race is a social construct, that white privilege exists, and racism is systemic and continues today.

“Critical race theory is not indoctrination, but an opportunity to look at history through another lens, promoting the development of multiple perspectives and a more comprehensive understanding of how we got to where we are,” he said.

Meegan said most social studies teachers already have been working to give their students a broader prospective, and he’s happy the standards are being updated to reflect that.

“Any history teacher who is worth their salt is already teaching that,” Meegan said.

Teachers present multiple viewpoints on historical events but do not present any viewpoint as right or wrong, he said. “Students cultivate their own worldview.”

A second round of public comment on the state standards update will be accepted after the second draft is released, Burnham said. The committee that is updating its standards aims to complete its recommendations by the end of 2021. There will be a few more years of review before the new standards are implemented. 

American Experiment representatives encouraged attendees to provide comment, to run for school board positions and to enroll their children in private schools.

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