Some of the authors of the first draft of new social studies standards disavowed the final version approved by Louisiana’s top school board Wednesday and said they were unfairly criticized for trying to inject a distorted version of the state’s racial history.
The criticism was included in an email sent to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley on the eve of the vote to endorse the new benchmarks after a 14-month review that sparked controversy.
It was signed by nine of the 27 members of a steering committee of educators and others named by state officials to recommend new guidelines, including the two parent representatives on the panel.
Aaron Jura, one of the nine and a school curriculum writer, said Wednesday the new benchmarks are less progressive than those in Mississippi.
Jura, who lives in New Orleans, said the department “listened to a very well organized minority of people who were misinformed.”
The committee endorsed its recommendations last September, which were then revised by Brumley and the state Department of Education amid a flurry of public comments.
BESE tentatively approved the revised standards Tuesday and gave final approval Wednesday with little discussion both times.
In an email dated Monday, the nine asked that the steering committee get another chance to review the final version and, if not, it would be clear BESE’s original goals of the update would not be met and the committee did not approve of the final product.
It said the benchmarks do not include information needed for students to gain a more coherent version of history, better prepare elementary students for secondary and postsecondary work and to ensure historical perspectives from a wide range of backgrounds.
“We understand that revising social studies standards during this highly divisive political moment in our history is complicated,” according to the email sent to Brumley and all 11 members of BESE.
“However, it is during such times that following a pre-determined procedure designed by the Louisiana Department of Education becomes all the more important,” it says.
Both Brumley and BESE President Jim Garvey disputed the criticism.
“I am proud of our process,” Brumley said, noting the changes won approval from BESE without a “no” vote.
The nine dissenters were especially incensed over charges that the steering committee was pushing critical race theory — the view that the legacy of White supremacy remains pervasive in the nation’s laws and institutions.
Some members of the public made that criticism during a fiery five-hour meeting last June, including charges that White students would be made to feel guilty and that the initial draft standards produced an overly bleak view of Louisiana and the nation’s history.
A few weeks later Brumley said public hearings on the issue would be delayed two months, and he tried to defuse one of the key controversies.
“I don’t believe critical race theory should be taught in K-12 education,” Brumley said at the time, and he repeated that view later.
Some state lawmakers and others who were initially critical of the process praised revisions made by the department and later endorsed the standards.
Jura said critical race theory — what it means sparks arguments — was never part of the focus of the work groups.
“I read through some of the public comments that inaccurately assessed that CRT was included,” he said.
“But the comments themselves are directly attributable to special interest groups outside of the state,” Jura added. “They are literally copy and paste jobs from websites. They are not based in fact.”
Jura said one of the casualties of the department’s revisions was an account of how people of color in Louisiana played significant roles in the American Revolution and the Battle of New Orleans.
“And the new standards do not even take into account their place in Louisiana’s and the nation’s history,” he said. “That is egregious.”
Asked about the criticism, Brumley said Tuesday the steering committee’s recommendations set a foundation for department officials to work from and one that generated about 1,500 public comments.
Garvey noted that the standards underwent multiple revisions.
“I think they did their job,” he said of steering committee members. “I think they were utilized properly.”
Justin Winder, one of three students on the committee and one of the dissenters, said the panel worked for four months to craft better standards.
“And then a year later we heard that they wanted to do it their way and not as diverse as we planned it to be,” said Winder, a junior at Ponchatoula High School.
Copyright (c) 2022, The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.