We support the new social studies standards proposed by the NM Public Education Department. The standards are a positive step in our collective responsibility to care for the well-being of our young people. Because of COVID-19, the past 18 months have been punishing for students. The trauma of being isolated from school, peers and extended family has left many of our young people anxious and depressed about their future. We believe the proposed social studies standards are one important step toward healing.
By offering social studies curricula that address the complicated and nuanced histories and identities of New Mexicans, we can challenge young people to be critical thinkers who imagine a future different from the world we live in now. Our students are inheriting a state and nation weighed down by racial divides, climate change and cynicism. These new standards will help build our students into the leaders we so desperately need to solve these problems.
Our social studies standards have not been updated in more than a decade. Adversaries are falsely conflating this much-needed update with Critical Race Theory. We urge you not to be confused by this misdirection. What we should be talking about is how young people deserve authentic learning experiences that do not deny their culture, language and lived experiences — but celebrate them instead. Creating healing, inclusive lessons that build positive personal identity is essential for student health and future success.
In 2019, Future Focused Education held focus groups with young people across the state in partnership with NMPED. Many of the students told us about how they struggled in schools that could not adapt to their needs. Kenia Alonzo told us: “A lot of Native students learn differently and they have a lot of trauma, which is why they are in special education. I didn’t have a Native teacher until I got to college — Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute. I have never had a Navajo class before, and now my peers and I have a way to learn together. I have learned a lot more in college because I have Native teachers and I’m a better student because of it.”
How many young people in our state are like Kenia? How many of them never made it to college so that their needs could be met? The new social studies standards can help schools meet the challenge Kenia articulated, and that’s why we support them so wholeheartedly.
Finally, Future Focused Education operates X3, a paid internship program that has partnered with more than 75 employers in New Mexico. It has paid out more than $330,000 to young people who have participated in more than 450 internships. It’s an immense success for the students, most of whom are off-track to graduation or have returned to school after dropping out. This program has shown us that confident, self-assured young people make the best interns and employees — they are the key to making our communities healthier and more prosperous.
These new standards will help students see themselves as assets who can make a positive contribution. To do this, our schools must reinforce the notion that our young people can be successful because of who they are and where they come from, rather than in spite of it.