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New Social Studies Standards for Minnesota Cleared By Judge

By Erik W. Robelen — March 25, 2013 2 min read
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Minnesota’s new standards for social studies can be implemented next school year after an administrative law judge ruled against the claims by critics that the guidelines showed a liberal bias and promoted “anti-American” ideals, the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis reports.

The judge, Barbara Neilson, wrote that “it is inevitable that there will be disagreement between people about the content that should be included in academic standards, particularly where, as here, the subject matter involves such controversial topics as economics, world history, government, and ... geography.” But, in the end, she concluded that the state department of education has demonstrated a “rational basis” for the new standards.

Judge Neilson was asked to mediate the dispute between the state education agency and a group of “mostly conservative critics, led by the advocacy group Education Liberty Watch and a number of Republican legislators,” the Star Tribune story said.

To give a quick flavor, here are some of the critiques of the social studies standards summarized in the report of the administrative law judge, issued last week:

• The standards “fail to emphasize the contributions of Western civilization and over-emphasize global perspectives.”
• They “reflect a liberal ideological bias.” (One critic contended that they reflect “a much darker narrative” in which “America prospered only through imperialism and the exploitation of minorities.”
• They fail to stress the notion of “American exceptionalism.”
• They fail to contrast “inalienable or “God-given” rights such as liberty with “government-given” rights.
• They “are less rigorous than the 2004 standards.”
• Some also objected to use of the word “democracy” in the standards, suggesting that the phrase “constitutional republic” be substituted.

The judge’s report includes rebuttals from the state department of education to many of these criticisms. With regard to the charges of an anti-American bias, the state agency said the standards provide a “balanced narrative of the American story” and “acknowledge the progress of America, while also calling attention to setbacks that might be underrepresented in an ‘American Exceptionalism’ narrative.”

As for the issue of rigor, the department said that while there are fewer standards and benchmarks in the document than in the prior standards from 2004, those standards have been specifically designed to incorporate knowledge and skills students need to be ready for college and careers.

A spokeswoman for the state department of education told the Star Tribune it was pleased with the ruling, and that plans to put the standards into place for the coming academic year would proceed.

You can read the new social students standards for yourself here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.