Editorial: PED has homework to do on proposed social studies update - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: PED has homework to do on proposed social studies update

Proponents of updating social studies standards say there are no hidden agendas, that it’s been 20 years since they’ve been overhauled and they need to be updated to include major events like 9/11, the presidents and policies of the past two decades and the LGBTQ rights movement.

Opponents agree there are no hidden agendas; they say progressives in the state’s education community are openly part of a nationwide movement intended to instill Critical Race Theory and other progressive ideologies in the minds of schoolchildren.

They’re both right.

Twenty-four Republican state representatives sent a letter Tuesday to the policy director of the state Public Education Department calling for more public comment time. They say the proposed standards “degrade and slander the greatest country on earth,” have a “preoccupation” with American slavery and attempt to indoctrinate students “with the false theology that our country is systemically racist.”

And they are correct that some of the verbiage seems more appropriate for an activist than a social studies class — “systemic inequity,” “just economic system” and a call for kindergartners to “take action.” Glaringly absent is any mention that despite its flaws, America remains that “shining city on a hill” where literally millions of immigrants, most of color, continue to flock for a better life. A little more balance that includes what works in our nation and state and less community-organizer prescriptive language that boxes teachers into how to approach history is needed.

That said, students should explore how our country was founded on slavery, fought the Indian Wars, established Japanese internment camps, and still struggles with equality regarding race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. It takes a special set of blinders to argue discrimination has not been/is not alive and well in many parts of America. The challenge is examining history without damning/excusing its participants past, present and future based on the color of their skin. We have to believe New Mexico — a minority-majority state with 23 federally recognized Native American nations, tribes and pueblos — is strong enough to take a hard look back in order to forge a better path forward.

Unfortunately, the valuable arguments in the five-page GOP letter can get lost in its denial of too many people’s realities; its tone is reminiscent of a missive written in the 1950s. Perhaps we should all go back to “duck and cover?”

The N.M. Public Education Department will hear comments Friday starting at 1 p.m., and the comment period has been doubled to four hours, to 5 p.m. PED says “the secretary has also committed to hearing everyone on Zoom who wishes to speak, even if that takes us late into the evening.” For a link or dial-in number, go to https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/literacy-humanities/social-studies/.

While it would be optimal to have in-person comment meetings across the state, our COVID numbers continue to rise — more than a thousand new cases daily and almost 500 people hospitalized. And there’s a lesson in PED’s science standards drama from 2017: After public comment PED watered down scientific facts to placate anti-science constituents, removing things like the real age of the Earth, human evolution and explicit references to climate change. After serious backlash from scientists — we are home to three national labs — the original standards were adopted.

That shouldn’t happen this time around. Whether or not PED adds additional meetings, N.M. students deserve more than a show of “listening” with no change in the ultimate results. The new social studies standards need to bring curriculum up to present day. But they also need to focus on teaching history and events — not activist buzzwords — and they need to focus on all history, not just the negative.

If it takes a little more time, it’s worth it.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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