As politically divided as this nation is, it is becoming clear that public education is falling into the grips of election-year division. It is seen throughout the country in what is being proposed or mandated for public schools. Minnesota is no exception.
The hue and cry of the perceived evils that will result from new social studies standards for students in grades K-12 is just one area fueling division. The months-long process by the Minnesota Department of Education to produce the new standards has seen three revisions and following public hearings is ready to be implemented. One component of the revised document involves the addition of ethics standards. Some have equated this standard to the much-criticized concept of critical race theory.
What many fail to understand about the standards is that they don’t drop immediately into school lesson plans. How the standards are incorporated is determined by every district and charter school in the state. Districts will soon begin the process of revising their curriculum to reflect the new standards. Full implementation is not required until the 2026-27 school year. Districts will have latitude in how they adjust existing courses and course content. There is no graduation credit requirement involved in the revised standards.
Some have read the revised standards believing they will wipe away any teaching reference to significant points in world and American history. That’s far from accurate. There has been no change to state statutes related to social studies that require 3.5 graduation credits must be earned in U.S. history, world history, government and citizenship, geography and economics.
It is the fear that critical race theory will wrongly champion the belief that racial oppression has infiltrated national institutions, including the legal system. It will certainly be debated on all levels during the 2022 election cycle. We believe districts in Minnesota are not altering teaching plans to meet a liberal or conservative philosophy.
As one area school superintendent told an editorial board member: “There is nothing further from the truth. We don’t teach that America is a terrible place to be and that whites are to blame.”
The effort to politicize public education as a 2022 election issue can also be seen in the Minnesota Parents Bill of Rights, legislation sponsored by Republicans that has passed in the Senate and sent on to the House. Its chances of passing there are not likely, but it places public education as an election wedge issue. And is it really needed?
The bill would require teachers to provide a class syllabus to parents within two weeks, plus any updates that may be added. It also would require that a school provide a list of all books in the library upon request. The bill resembles attempts in other states that are targeting public education.
In reality, requests for information identified in the Bill of Rights are now part of the daily fabric of schools throughout the state. All parents need to do is ask; stamping such requests in state law is unnecessary. “There is no mystery as to what is being taught and what is in the library,” the superintendent told the board member. The legislation is simply a solution in search of a problem.
There are easier and more productive ways that don’t require legislation. Parents can volunteer in their schools. Parental volunteers are welcomed, and their efforts are a good way to stay in touch with what schools are doing.
Beyond volunteering, there are steps that can be done at home. Talk to children. Ask them about their day and their studies. Read the materials that students are bringing home. Go to school functions. And perhaps more importantly, talk to teachers and stay involved in the process.
This is not an effort to say schools are perfect. Schools are local entities that certainly need parental involvement and that is a step easily taken. What aren’t needed are more legislative rules and regulations that will fall to overburdened teachers and staff. And now is the right time to stop the political rhetoric and dial down the fear of critical race theory.
— An editorial from the APG of East Central Minnesota Editorial Board. Reactions are welcome. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org.