Opinion: New social studies standards bungle history
Michigan’s K-12 social studies standards are enormously important — they will guide student learning about history, civics, geography and economics. As such, they are the foundation upon which our state and republic will flourish — or suffer.
On June 11, the State Board of Education will be reviewing a set of proposed revisions to the standards recommended by the Department of Education. A prior draft was released in March. Although there are some modest improvements from the March version, they continue to fall short of what our teachers, students and citizens deserve.
First, the standards reject the founding First Principles of our nation. Our Declaration of Independence holds as a self-evident truth that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Although the standards refer to “unalienable rights” in passing, the document predominately refers to “individual rights.” There is a monumental difference, and it is fundamental to our understanding of who we are as human beings and the role of the government.
Unalienable rights are given to us by Nature and Nature’s God; they are born in us and stay with us our entire life. They cannot be taken away by government. In fact, the government exists to preserve those rights. Individual rights, by contrast, can be given or revoked by government. Social security benefits, welfare payments, drivers licenses and other benefits are individual rights dependent on the government. If our students do not grasp the difference they will not understand that they are sovereign citizens, with a divine spark, who are in charge of the government, not the other way around. The understanding of unalienable rights is a keystone of liberty.
Other First Principles have been slighted. The right to alter or abolish an oppressive government is hardly mentioned; the Social Compact has been replaced with the Social Contract — a French term that helped propel the guillotine.
This critique was raised and ignored. Why? We cannot preserve our liberties without understanding their foundation.
Second, they do not require the teaching of vital content. Brown v. Board of Education is optional. Taxation without representation is entirely omitted. Socrates, Plato, Alexander the Great, all the Caesars, Jesus, Muhammad, Christopher Columbus, Adam Smith, James Madison, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, and other towering historical figures — just left on the cutting room floor as optional examples or entirely omitted.
Third, they contain inaccuracies and garbled content. For example, they refer to the “Gullah Islands” (there is no such place — they are the “Sea Islands” and the Gullah culture), they frame the Monroe Doctrine as a treaty (it is a unilateral American foreign policy), they term the War of 1812 as a treaty (it was a war), and they refer to various eras using inconsistent dates. This is just a sampling of errors.
Accuracy critiques have been consistently made, but additional review reveals further inaccuracies. Why? If the standards are inaccurate, they are without merit.
Fourth, they use inconsistent and confusing terminology. For example, the draft uses at least 17 phrases to describe our democratic values and constitutional principles. This simply sows confusion.
Imprecision and inconsistency subverts good standards.
The standards should undergo a vetting process by national content experts, uninvolved in the drafting process, to ensure accuracy, consistency, and inclusion of vital content. To do otherwise all but ensures flawed standards will govern our students learning for years to come — an unacceptable, unforgivable and avoidable travesty.
Judge Michael Warren is an Oakland County Circuit Court Judge, co-creator of Patriot Week, author of America’s Survival Guide, former member of the state Board of Education, and served as a focus group and task force member for the revision of the social studies standards.