This letter is a rebuttal to an article which was published in the Star News in the opinion section on Aug. 21. I felt it had a confrontational, alarmist tone. As a veteran of 36 years of teaching in four states, 8 years as a school board member, parent of two college graduates, and now am a Minnesota senior citizen advocate for public education, I am alarmed that the public is allowing political parties to hijack our schools. Students have the right to be represented in the curriculum they receive, to hear various points of view, and to be equipped to live in a multi-cultural society which is changing at light speed. We must equip them, or they will not know how to shape the future.

The article was the product of the American Experiment in Minnesota. This organization has been active in over 20 states in the U.S. where they view education through their political lens. The Minnesota center is a policy “think tank” led by John Phelan, a London trained economist. In the Star News article Catrin Wigfall is referenced, as a policy advisor. She has two years of experience in education in Arizona. And she comes to Minnesota from the Heritage Foundation. This Minnesota Center for the American Experiment has non-profit status, but it is funded by the Koch Brothers and other extreme conservative organizations. The opinion piece states 17,000 comments were submitted regarding the second round, for review of Social Studies state standards. The think tank cherry picked its way through the proposed standards and raised alarm bells for the reader to adopt blindly. This petition only required a click on a website for submission, not personal research.

The National American Experiment was founded in the ‘90s by Mitch Pearlstein who spent two years at the Department of Education when in 1983 the Reagan Administration released the “Nation at Risk” report for explicit political gain. It advocated that “rigorous standards” be written for all areas of the curriculum so that America would be competitive in a multi-cultural world. Education has been a political football ever since. Both political parties pushed school districts through “Common Core Standards,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top,” and more. Politicians like former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas are now using education as their political wedge issue. Now, the Center for the American Experiment is writing about the revision of curriculum standards for the teaching of Social Studies in the state of Minnesota.

Curriculum is a guide. It is an outline, written by trained educators, through consensus, with many debates and rewrites. During the process parents are also included in standard review; they offer their unique perspectives and critique. It is not a religious doctrine. It is a framework, ensuring that students will have similar information and experiences even if they move across districts, or state to state. (i.e. Do politicians tell brain surgeons how to operate? Do you tell your dentist how to do root canal procedures? Shall we tell construction workers how to build the highway you drive upon?) Let the professionals do what they are trained to do. If we don’t give educators our confidence, the best and brightest will not be drawn to teaching. Many will retire or leave education. And children will move into the future ill equipped to compete globally.

Teachers make decisions based on student need. Teachers do not indoctrinate, they introduce ideas. They surround the students with information which is suitable for grade level. Teachers are always adapting to the students’ needs and assessing their progress. The ultimate goal is to let them think for themselves and encourage them to be independent, lifelong learners. Guilt is not a “goal” dispensed by teachers. Patriotism is not the “end” of responsible citizenship. Public schools are the forum for modeling and informing the actions of responsible citizenship. America is not the only country that has made mistakes throughout history, but if we continue to let politicians and think tanks tell us “what to do” to “fix education,” we are doomed. Why should our children be sheltered from information which helps them understand others, so they might shape issues affecting their future?

The school year is just beginning. The needs for a safe and productive school year are many. More “muck raking” and “political agendas” are not the support schools need. I urge citizens to visit schools, attend events, converse with teachers, attend in-person conferences, and do your due research if you are sifting through social media and hard print. And seniors, we must support ALL children entering school, even when our own families are grown and in the workforce. America, and our collective future, is dependent on access to an equitable education and equal opportunity. Give the students some credit, they are more resilient than adults. — Paula Benfer, Elk River

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