Apr 27, 2012

National Association of Scholars Review of MN Social Studies Standards

A Critical Comment of the Proposed Social Studies Standards ((8/18/2011 draft)

I   Executive Summary

Until 2003, guidance for the K-12 curriculum in Minnesota was provided by the ‘Profiles in Learning,’ a group of ten ‘Learning Areas,’ one of which (‘Peoples and Cultures’) had reference to Social Studies.

The preface to the Standards for Social Studies adopted by the Legislature in 2004 indicates that these guidelines aim to enrich the cognitive content of the K-12 curriculum. In other words, the presumption is that one goes to school to broaden one’s mind. This goal is achieved by defining the requirements not in terms of the generalized themes of a traditional social studies curriculum (e.g. Peoples and Cultures), but rather in terms of four Strands, each based on an academic discipline: History, Geography, Economics, and Government. In the History and Government Strands, on which our comment focuses, there is an emphasis on the founding of the American Republic, on the democratic institutions of the United States, and on the common values that Americans share, without regard to race, creed, or color.

The 2011 Standards do not attempt to overturn the 4-Strand or 4-discipline framework adopted in 2004, but in the Government and History sections – if not in the Economics and Geography sections – one senses an intent to tilt things back in the direction of a Social Studies framework. The Introduction states that  ‘the aim of social studies is the promotion of civic competence.’ The citation containing this phrase comes from National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, a 2010 Publication of the National Council for Social Studies, an advocacy group for Social Studies teachers. The National Council’s standards presume a curriculum that is based not on academic disciplines, but on cross-disciplinary ‘themes’ like Culture, Time and Continuity, People and Places, Personal Development and Identity, etc.  Those who remember Minnesota’s Profiles in Learning may hear in this message some familiar ideas. Accordingly, the cognitive content of the curriculum for Government and History – again not, or at least not so much, for Economics and Geography – is significantly reduced. In some areas – notably on the founding principles of our political system, and the European background from which they derived –content is drastically reduced. In return, there is a stress on students learning to participate actively in civic life. While teachers could use these guidelines in a politically neutral way, all the benchmarks given come either from a multicultural perspective, or from left-of-center agendas.

In a nutshell: the 2004 Standards for History and Government require students to learn about the world in which we live. The 2011 Standards would require them to be active in bettering the world (with the concrete examples of improvement all coming from one side of the political spectrum). If one believes, that school-years are a precious opportunity for learning about our world, and that students ought not to have political opinions fed to them by their teachers, one must conclude that replacement of the 2004 Standards for History and Government by the newly proposed Standards would represent a giant step backwards for Minnesota’s K-12 students.

II GOVERNMENT AND CITIZENSHIP (comment follows plan of 2004 Standards)


==A Sub-Strand: Civic Values: Symbolic Artifacts

The new standard is vague and open ended, e.g. no specifics or examples for specifically U.S. and Minnesota documents or symbols. Why is ‘community’ added as an alternative for ‘United States’?  Can any document or symbol from any ‘community’ fulfill this standard? 

==B Sub-Strand: Civic Values: Rights & Responsibilities

The new standards strip away content: there is nothing about demonstrating the acquisition of knowledge,  because there is no knowledge-based requirement.

Instead, there is the ‘skill’ of participation.  The benchmark for student participation in shared experience of school issues is eliminated, in its place is a vague benchmark concerning ‘one’s’ community.  New benchmark seems divisive and open to abuse for political purposes, as it substitutes for shared experience a segregation of students into groups either in or outside the school. What the rights and responsibilities are intended in the new standards?    Who decides in each classroom?  What is meant by ‘fairness and ‘individual dignity’?  Is this subjective, decided by students or teachers? 

==C Sub-Strand: Government Institutions and Processes: Rules and Laws

Again, the new standards strip away content and specific knowledge requirements. There is reference to applying laws ‘fairly, but no discussion of who decides, or how fairness is determined.  New standards remove the building blocks for the idea of the rule of law and instead develop the notion of laws as relative or group- specific, providing no underlying foundation or principles. There is also no mention of the U.S. or Minnesota constitutions at any time in new standards for grades K-3, only vague reference to symbolic documents.  The focus is on doing/action/participation, instead of on gaining basic knowledge.

==D Sub-Strand: Governmental Systems

Why are students to explain the ‘purpose’ of government and not its functions, as stated in the 2004 Standards? The 2004 Sub-Strand on Roots of the Republic is excluded from new Standards –   Why the omission? No ‘roots of the republic’ in the US History section either.

Overview for K-3:

The new Standards remove the majority of content contained in the 2004 Standards, leaving ‘skill’ activities, which could turn out to be make-work projects without substance.   These standards require a lot less, and they offer little basic knowledge about government and civic life; instead there are vague concepts that are open to manipulation, and the introduction of ideological bias.

The new Standards call to mind what is known as procedural or process liberalism derived from Pragmatism.  In this outlook the focus is entirely on action within democracy, as if culture played little or no role in forming and sustaining democratic societies.  Procedural/process liberalism gives the appearance of neutrality and seems to avoid “privileging” one culture or belief system over another, but that is an illusion, since some form of culture/belief/ideological system will always be implicit.

Standards written in this way are perfect for advancing the ideology of multiculturalism, as they could fit the educational system of an country or any subculture  Since specific references to U.S. political culture are removed, teachers would seem to be free to determine which cultures and subcultures are ‘privileged’ for inclusion in the classroom.  Instead of teaching about a generalized common political culture for everyone, a few select cultures could receive heightened emphasis, to the exclusion of other subcultures.

By contrast, the previous standards started by building a foundation for understanding U.S. political culture, and then added in an understanding of different political cultures and subcultures.

Even the most elemental and foundational principle of Western democracies, the rule of law, is here relativized by focusing on “fairness,” and not on equal treatment under the law for all.  Every political culture has some culturally determined notion of “fairness,” there are many that do not uphold the idea of equality under the law.

=4-8 LEVEL

==A Sub –Strand: Civic Values (1 under new Standards; comment includes Sub-

Strand Rights and Responsibilities (2 under new standards)

Here too, the new standards significantly lower the basic requirements while increasing the vagueness and the potential for ideological bias.  For example, character qualities of past leadership are dropped in the new standards, as if action is all that’s necessary to “make a difference”.  Also, no examples are provided to help determine who qualifies as someone who made a difference.  Students are to detect censorship—but how does a person find something that is not there, or know it is not there  due to censorship, unless an instructor plants the suspicion in the students’ mind?

Discussion on citizenship moves away from understanding how citizenship is exercised and established to it how it has expanded and changed over time, and these  changes are removed from their historic context in the past. One might say citizenship is treated not as something legally defined, but as something that evolves and is relative.

==B Sub-Strand: Beliefs and Principles of the US: Democracy (6 under newStandards)

This section significantly degrades the 2004 Standards, since several foundational principles are removed. Judicial review now finds a place in the standards, but ‘consent of the governed’ is gone, and so is ‘the rule of law’ a principle that is fundamental to western democracies. There is also no reference in the new standards to ‘e pluribus unum.’

Again, the new standards assume that foundational principles ‘evolve’ and change over time.  They also suggest a contradictory mix of universalism and multiculturalism: while the standards specifically mention the United States, the benchmarks remove any references to U.S. political culture, leaving only concepts that can apply universally or, if desired, in a multicultural interpretation.

The main concepts of rights, liberty, equality, justice are given no foundation and any references to the Declaration of Independence are completely stripped from all the new standards.  What are students taught as the basis for these fundamental principles?  Are they socially determined and culturally bound?  The drift of the new standards suggests an answer in the affirmative.


==C. Sub-Strand: Roots of the Republic

For this Sub-Strand from the 2004 Standards, there are no new standards  in the 2011 proposals. No historical context is given for the founding of the United States, nor is there reference to the principles that influenced both founding and early development of democracy in the United States.  Significantly, there is no reference to the Declaration of Independence, with its principle of inalienable rights, nor to the importance of the Declaration to Lincoln.


==D. Sub-Strand:  Government Systems:  (4 under new standards)

The new standards are lower in terms of substance and knowledge content, but more demanding in terms of overt political activism. In place of a concentration on the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions and on the functions of government, the 2011 proposals add standards on the juvenile justice system and on international law. There is also a generalized international relations perspective instead of a focus on U.S. foreign policy.  Changes made in content indicate an ideological slant: theocracies are included as a type of government (how many exist outside of a couple in the Middle East?), the definition of the nation-state excludes the most basic principle –  sovereignty – and property rights are introduced under the category of sources of conflicts, competition and cooperation of nation-states.


=GRADES 9 – 12

==A Sub-Strand: Civic Values, Rights and Responsibilities (also Skills)

The new standards merely state that rights are secured, while the previous standards required understanding how rights are secured.  This may be a typing error, but, unlike the benchmarks for the 2004 standards, the new benchmarks give no indication of how rights are secured. The new standards add a “social science” standard and benchmarks.  Why?  Isn’t method taught in science?  Why take time from government and civics for a methods component, structured as it might be for the natural sciences?

==B Sub-Strand: Beliefs and Principles of Democracy

The new standards add a section on ‘tensions between government’s dual role of protecting individual rights and promoting the general welfare,’ but give no examples that might indicate the intent of the new section.  Two such tensions commonly mentioned are limiting individual rights for greater security, and limiting individual liberty for greater equality.  The term ‘general welfare,’ from the preamble to the Constitution, was not meant to promote equality, although that interpretation is now put forward among some ideological groups.  What is the standard addressing? The new standards give minimal attention to the 14th amendment, and there is no discussion of equal protection of the law and the various interpretations and applications that developed over time.

==C Sub-Strand: Roots of the Republic

The new standards eliminate this entire section, thereby removing from the required curriculum the foundation of political culture in the United States and the events and debates that shaped the development and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Hence the following topics would no longer figure in what Minnesota students are taught: the Declaration of Independence,  Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates, the development of state constitutions, Shay’s Rebellion, etc. With no Declaration of Independence, there can be no meaningful comparison or source of reference for such as the Seneca Falls’ Declaration of Sentiments, Gettysburg Address, or Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  Also missing are references to Greek democracy, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu –  in other words the political philosophers that not only informed the political thought of constitutional framers but still influences our political debates and ideologies today.


==D. Sub-Strand: Governmental Processes and Institutions

In the new Standards, the first mention of the principle of the rule of law comes under the judiciary, with the idea of an independent judiciary and judicial review.  This principle has far greater significance and a much broader application  – the new standards imply a narrow and distorted understanding. The new standards also remove ‘The student will know how the U.S. Constitution seeks to prevent the abuse of power.’ Is it assumed government never abuses power?  The new standards include a section on budgeting, sources of revenues and categories of spending.  This addition may be helpful as a benchmark, but no context or examples provided.



The proposed new standards represented a slimmed down and significantly lower level of educational expectation for Minnesota students.  They are also more opaque: most standards and benchmarks are worded in a vague way that not only requires interpretation, but opens the possibility for ideological manipulation.

Overall, the new standards seem to reflect a process or procedural liberalism, for which action or skills related to participation far outweigh the importance of an understanding of U.S. political culture.  For example, skills such as active engagement in some public policy issue (how determined or by whom is left unstated) receive far greater attention than in the 2004 Standards, but the entire section on the roots of the republic is completely eliminated.  Removing this section means that foundational documents and historic events are no longer connected to key concepts and principles; in some cases the concepts and principles themselves are also eliminated or distorted.

For example, the new standards do not require an understanding of the Declaration of Independence, nor of its relationship to previous political philosophers such as John Locke.  Fundamental concepts such as the rule of law come up in the new standards only in a section on the judicial branch, introduced in the 9th grade.  This significantly distorts the meaning and application of the rule of law, divorcing this fundamental principle from the rich history of political thought and democratic principles.

The number of significant ideas, events, documents as well as historic persons eliminated from the new standards suggests a disinterest in U.S. political culture in favor of a multicultural bias.  Given the vagueness of several standards and benchmarks, it appears that any community’s political culture, symbols, documents, historic persons, may qualify to meet the new requirements.  Instead of the experiences and historic significance of many diverse communities interacting within the U.S. political culture, the new standards allow for the segmentation and segregation of select communities, with only minimal connection to the broader U.S. democracy.

The place of introduction for some terms and concepts is also interesting.  For example, in defining the nation-state the term sovereignty is not used.  However, sovereignty is used with regards to popular sovereignty.  The idea of property rights is first used as an example for conflict, competition and cooperation between nation-states.  Fair or fairness is often used without any definition and yet this is highly contested concept.



=General Comment

At the outset of the 2004 Standards there is a noticeable emphasis on Jeffersonian individualism. What we have in common is also taken into account, for example in regard to the civic ‘creed’ that Americans share. But the focus on individual liberty is entirely appropriate, and also followed through consistently, e.g. , in the stress on individual learning as distinct from group-based projects.

For the 2011 Standards, the introductory mission statement contains the usual boilerplate about diversity, globalism, teamwork, collaboration, etc. This is all well and good, one supposes, but the emphasis should be on the founding and ideals of the country, as well as what makes American freedom unique.  Individual liberty is the key ideal.  While there is nothing wrong with stressing the importance of a community, the starting point needs to be individual liberty and responsibility.  This is an important point to make all on its own, but it’s also clear that as one reads the benchmarks that the role of the individual in our society is overshadowed. It is significant that the word “democracy” is always used, “republic” does not come up. The difference needs to be clarified, so that the correct word is chosen for appropriate contexts. The specific problems with these new standards all follow from the larger flaw in the introduction and goals of the curriculum.

The 2004 Standards are straightforward in what is expected of students, and balanced in their approach to things. It is difficult to discern any implied assumptions about the conclusions to be drawn, and there really is no hidden agenda – something that cannot be said of the 2011 Standards. In terms of key topics covered there is a good deal of similarity between both sets of standards, but the 2011 version tilts away from content in the lower grades, and tilts toward activism at all levels – as is not the case with the 2004 Standards. In general, it does not seem the 2004 Standards are in need of much work. One could make a case that material on the rise of Islam and US policy in the Middle East needs to be beefed up, but these questions are surprisingly absent from the 2011 version.

In sum, the 2004 Standards leave teachers plenty of room to develop arguments on any number of topics. There is some guidance of teachers toward particular conclusions, not in the 2004 Standards, but in the 2011 Standards. For example, big business is not presented as an unmitigated good in the 2004 Standards, but the negative side of things comes through in the 2011 version; the progressive movement is not regarded darkly in the 2004 Standards, but it is treated strictly as a positive thing in the 2011 version.

==Specific Criticisms of the 2011 Standards

At the K-2 level, there is too much of a focus on forming a large group with the students, rather than giving them the freedom to shape themselves, usurping the parents’ role in many areas.

Page:. – When it comes to the discussion of the private sector, the text discusses the limits on resources.  Interestingly, nothing of the sort is discussed for the public sector.  It stresses our dependence on government in all areas of life.

Page. 22 – There is discussion of inventions, but the context for why inventiveness is so important is missing.  There needs to be a focus on why our country succeeded due to individual inventions.

Pages 24 and 27 – When the text discusses positive activism, most examples are environmental activism.  There’s of course nothing wrong with this, but there are many other important types of activism. In the younger grades, the emphasis is on “civic responsibility” comes far too often.  Actual history is mainly absent.

Page 35 –The discussion of government regulation of the economy mentions only positive outcomes, and fails to consider unintended consequences.  There is no debate that perhaps it can be the government that leads “to undesirable social impacts,” and not always the “market.”

Page. 38 – There is no mention of the newly created DFL.  McCarthyism is emphasized, but there is no mention of Humphrey and the liberal movement to purge the government of any Communists.

Page 39 – List some major figures in MN history, like Humphrey.

Page 41– Here again there needs to be discussion of  both sides – e.g. an example of how rationing can be bad!


Page. 42 – Hoover wasn’t laissez faire!  Also, no discussion on the negative effects of inflation.  At least consider that Hoover and FDR perhaps prolonged the Great Depression.  Also, entrepreneurial endeavors are brought up only for their undesirable effects.

Page 43 – The only examples given are of extreme examples of pricing.  These examples do not show what a truly free market would accomplish.

Page  44 – The role of the Supreme Court in the economy should be mentioned.

Page 45 – The relocation of Indians to reservations is discussed, but there is no mention of the debate about assimilation (eg. Dawes Act).  Also no discussion about the 1920s.  It shouldn’t be glossed over.

Page. 46 – More is needed on the Soviet Union and why we fought the Cold War.


Page 48 – Religious foundations are discussed for Iran, Aztecs, etc., but the Puritan foundations of America is not mentioned.


Page. 57 – There should be discussion of how China wants economic freedom without individual freedom.  Compare with the U.S. where, originally, there was true freedom in both spheres.  Why is the latter better?


Page 59 – Activism is the starting point for high school history.  It should be the ending point.


Page 60 – Again, the responsibility of citizens is emphasized, but without discussing individual freedom.


The economic section seemed rather advanced.


Page 74 – Changing concepts of racial identity, gender roles, and family organization????  What are they trying to get at here?

Page 76 – Little discussion of the slavery debate and how it directly led to the Civil War.


Page 78 – There ought to be discussion of  the pros and cons of Progressive Movement during and after the Industrial Revolution. Also, a connection should be made between industrial development and the U.S. becoming a world power.  The U.S. didn’t simply decide to become imperialistic.  When industry is mentioned only the consequences are mentioned.  There is no discussion of how these industries got built, the different models for industrial growth (vertical and horizontal), railroad development (gov’t aid or not?), debate of WWI and why the U.S. entered.


Page. 81 – There is no mention of the U.S. difficulties with the Soviet Union following WWII. Everything is described economically, while geopolitics and ideological differences are left out.  Also, the secret war in Laos is included, but there is nothing on Korea, Vietnam, etc.


Page 82 – Nothing on post-9/11 America.  Why not?


=World History

==General Comment

In the 2004 Standards, the stated purpose for teaching World History is to give students a sense of how ‘people of other times’ have grappled with ‘fundamental questions,’ or ‘the common problems of humankind.’ World History is thus understood as conveying even to young children that we are part of a wider world : what we share with people of long ago and far away is our common humanity.  By contrast, the 2011 Standards convey no sense that all cultures (ours included) have faced ‘fundamental questions,’ or that teaching World History from this perspective is a way of making clear to students that none of us – no people, no culture – is more or less human than any other. In these proposed standards, the curricular content is significantly truncated. There is no room for the achievements of the past (e.g., world civilizations, world religions), but only for the problems that the past has bequeathed to the present (e.g., European imperialism). If one thinks of the past as another country, and of history as a way of learning that people who lived in this other country were no less interesting and clever than we are, students who are taught World History under these guidelines will not get the point. Instead of learning to recognize a common humanity in those who lived long ago, they will learn to feel morally superior about living in the present.

==Comparison of the 2004 and 2011 Standards


The 2004 World History curriculum for grades K – 3 (pages 24 – 27) is ambitious. It is also balanced in its coverage of different parts of the World, and its emphasis on world civilizations and world religions follows through on the stated purpose of examining how peoples of the past grappled with ‘fundamental questions.’ These ancient cultures will be strange to young students, but a bit of strangeness is no bad thing, and the Persians and the Greeks are probably no stranger than the various fantasy-worlds to which many young children are exposed. Students will not see this material again for some years, but when they come back to World History in 9th grade, the hope embedded in these standards is that teachers will see them learning more deeply things that are not altogether unfamiliar.

In the 2011 Standards, there is a section on  ‘Peoples and Cultures’ for Grade 2, and a section on ‘Historical Thinking’ for Grade 3, with some room for World-History examples. The premise seems to be that learning about theories of human society (and of how one thinks about such theories) should come before learning about concrete societies of the past. One may argue about this premise pro and con, but it is exactly the kind of social studies approach that was rejected by the 2004 Standards. In terms of the curricular content, these is in effect no World History until Grade 8, where the story of the development over time of human culture and society is necessarily compressed; in particular, attention jumps from the domestication of crops 5,000 – 12,000 years ago ( to the interlinking of world regions, ca. 1400 – 1800, with reference to European imperialism. Students would learn to be properly indignant at what is wrong with the world, but without having gained an admiration for what human beings have accomplished in the past.


Both in the 2004 Standards and in the 2011 proposals, World History gets about half as much space in the 9 – 12 curriculum  as US History (in 2004, pages 3 – 22 for US History, pages 27 – 38 for World History; in 2011, pages 74 – 82 for US History, and pages 82 – 87 for World History). The difference that immediately strikes the eye is that History overall takes up about twice as much space in the 2004 Standards as in the 2011 proposals. Even allowing for the fact that teachers will have freedom to interpret the guidelines, the 2011 Standards would have to mean a significant reduction in curricular content.

One exception to what has just been said is that the 2011 Standards give relatively more attention to ‘Historical Thinking Skills’.  If this element of the curriculum comes before US History and World History in the 2011 proposals (pages 72 – 74), it has the appearance of an afterthought (pages 37 – 41). One hopes there are ways of teaching ‘historical thinking’ while teaching the content, rather than before or after.

In other respects, the curtailment of space for World History in the 2011 Standards does seem to mean a curtailment of curricular content. For example, the 2004 Standards raise early on the question of what ‘civilization’ means, and there is considerable attention to the major world religions. In both respects this curricular content ties back to a foundation laid in the early grades. By contrast, the term ‘world religions’ is not to be found in the 2011 Standards (there is instead a brief section, 83,on ‘major belief systems’) and the term ‘civilization’ is relegated to the benchmarks column on the right edge of the page. In other words, the 2004 World History curriculum is organized around a coherent premise – that is, that the past is best understood in terms of the beliefs by which people lived, and the civilizations that developed around these beliefs. For the 2011 World History curriculum it is hard to detect a premise, unless it be that (given the compression of content) one has to touch as many civilizational bases as possible within the limited time allowed.

Also, the 2004 Standards focus attention on political units, like the great empires of the past, or states that are still recognizable in the present, like France or Japan. By contrast, the 2011 Standards (that is, the Benchmarks that give a quick run-through of World History) give political organization no more prominence than social, economic, and cultural developments. There can be interesting discussions on this point, e.g. between political historians and social historians. What matters here is a question of pedagogy: how can the history of distant times and place be taught most effectively?  Here too, the 2011 Standards do not have a recognizable premise, perhaps because of the compression of the material. The 2004 Standards seem to rest on the assumption that history is best taught by aggregating peoples into their respective bodies politic, bounded by space as well as time. In theory, one might teach the French Revolution as an example of popular revolution, or the Meiji modernization as an example of indigenous response to foreign influence.  But it seems reasonable to assume, as the 2004 Standards do, that students grasp things more readily if they have a space-time grid on which to fix new information: the French Revolution was an uprising against the monarchy of Louis XIV and his successors; the Meiji modernization program was a reaction against Western pressure in particular.

Finally, while all the major world civilizations are treated in the 2004 Standards, Europe gets more attention than the others. Fundamental turning points in European history rate special mention (e.g. the Schism that divided Eastern and Western Christians in 1054, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution), and Europe is always one of the terms of comparison for global processes, like Empires in conflict, or Empires versus indigenous peoples. By contrast, in the 2011 Standards, Europe gets no more notice than any other part of the world, until the expansion of global contacts beginning about 1500. Also, there seems an intent to relativize Europe’s achievements; for example, p. 84, the Italian Renaissance comes up because it was ‘spurred by the Islamic Caliphate and Byzantine Empire,’ and because it fit into an ‘exchange of scientific and historical knowledge between European, Asian and African societies’. (NB There is no indication of how a Caliphate that had passed its prime by 900 ‘spurred’ a Renaissance in the 1400s, nor of what the Renaissance had to do with the study of African science by 20th Century scholars). Should Europe be given the prominence it has in the 2004 Standards? This question too can be debated pro and con, but in practical terms there is little doubt that today’s world has been largely shaped by ideas and institutions of European provenance, e.g. representative government, merchant capitalism, industrialization (and industrial pollution), trade unions, Marxism, the idea of human rights, etc. Also, many of the features that Americans often see as special virtues of our political system have in fact a European background (e.g., a written constitution, the federal system, separation of powers, separation of church and state, and even the very idea of democracy). The same is true for many of the blots on our national past (e.g. the transatlantic slave trade, theories of racial inferiority). The essential point is that students at the 9 – 12 level have a right to know how the world as we see it before us has been stitched together over the centuries. To this end, they need to know about the very large impact Europe has had on the history of the world, for good and for ill. This goal, left to one side by the 2011 Standards, is achieved by the 2004 Standards; as they are written, teachers would seem to have ample scope for a balanced treatment of Europe’s place in World History.


To my pleasant surprise, I found little or nothing to object to in the 2011 benchmarks. They are comprehensive, clear and accurate, so far as I can tell – though I would quarrel with ‘Ptolemaic’ ( and ‘macquiadores’ for ‘maquiladoras’ ( Most important, though all of us might quibble with the way some of the issues/topics have been presented, I do not have the impression that these Economics Standards are a Trojan Horse for political correctness or any other political ideology. If anything I was favorably surprised. For example, the discussion of U.S. sugar quotas from the standpoint of a policy argument that, overall, the costs outweigh the benefits. (That is my rendering). American Crystal Sugar might object, but I think the conclusion represents the consensus view among economists.


I am responding as a professional geographer – my comments do not reflect anyone else’s opinion.

I like the overall thoughts behind the document, as articulated in p.3-4 but perhaps we are trying to overreach by looking at virtually all parts of the world (I reflect I never studied so many parts of the world as a high school student).

But, if the emphasis is on civic competence is there a need to introduce the entire world, or to focus more narrowly on some parts of the world, exposing students to the full range of modern geographic thoughts and techniques that allow us as geographers make sense of the world? Are the standards trying to make a case for geography or are they attempting to show how geography constructs the world?

I like the organization described p.5-8 but I’m not sure some of the benchmarks are as explicit as they could be – but as the introductory narrative states – they are not as specific as previous benchmarks.

But, of course the devil is in the details …

I would like to see the overall thoughts and organization broken down more finely – kindergarten, middle school grades, and high school grades – with appropriate emphasis on memorization and visualization at the lower grades and increasing abstractions and – most importantly less memorization – at the higher levels. There really is too much emphasis on memorization of factual information throughout.

Geography overall is presented in the various strands, substrands, standards, and benchmarks rather statically rather than as a distinct way of understanding a dynamic and extremely interconnected world through the use of spatial analytical observations.

There is very little discussion of the biophysical processes at the higher levels and so the use of a geographical perspective to understand and help solve contemporary environmental problems cannot be appreciated. (The Geography strand seems to be missing in the 7th Grade as a consequence the transition from grade 6 to Grade 8 seems daunting to me)

Grade 8 seems to contain far too many standards – far too much detail – how many classes per week do students get in Geography?

There is little or no discussion of information sources – a serious problem in our information-rich world – certainly there seems to be scant attention to electronic sources – with the exception of GIS and GPS technology.

There are rather obvious gaps – transportation in its various forms are virtually ignored.

What about the marine world which occupies 70% of the earth’s surface? The first mention is in Grade 8 regarding people migrating to Australasia

There is no mention of the contributions that geography can and has made to studies in the long-term history of the earth’s biophysical process.

Cultural geography is quite restricted – what about belief systems (not just religion!!!), political ecology, nature-environment approaches, feminist studies? There’s a considerable literature on ethnicity, ethnography, race, gender  etc.  A modern curriculum needs to reflect these new approaches to old data not just parrot what has always considered to be the core of geography.

The key questions we need to ask of a curriculum

What do individuals need to be civically competent, in particular, but perhaps more importantly, what do individuals need to know to be able to communicate effectively with one another and to be informed by that communication.

  • what factual details and what generalizations
  • what intellectual skills that can provide  the necessary personal framework for understanding the “world” (I don’t necessarily mean the whole world)
  • what methodological skills for observation and analysis
  • what communication skills – specialized vocabulary perhaps


*3 February 2012


John C. ‘Chuck’ Chalberg, Ph. D. in History (University of Minnesota), Professor of History, Normandale College, has taught US survey for 40 years

Debbie Daniels, Ph. D. in Political Science (University of Minnesota),

Ian Maitland, Professor of Strategic Management, Carlson School, University of Minnesota

Roderick Squires, Professor of Geography, University of Minnesota

James D. Tracy, Ph. D in History (Princeton University), Emeritus Professor of History, University of Minnesota, retired Jan. 2010, taught World History survey (usually the first half) approximately ten times.

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  • Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram posted a detailed assessment of the “national” Common Core State Standards, wherein they labeled the standards as “content and culture free”. If one views all the disciplines as a “skilled discipline” rather than a “knowledge discipline” then any culture or content can be embodied into the curriculum. The underlying reasons for ‘nationalizing’ the standards was to make room for the National Education for Sustainability K-12 Student Learning Standards (Version 3-October 2009), dedicated to the UN Decade for Sustainable Development (2004-2015).
    Stotsky and Milgram were members of the Validation Committee, so I regard them as a primary resource. They reviewed math and language arts, but the national science and social studies organizations are doing the same, leaving a portal for the entrance of sustainability content, the essential theme of education.
    1. North American Association for Environmental Education, currently crosswalking the US Partnership (UN) standards to the Common Core State Standards.
    2. Oregon’s Environmental Literacy Plan, adopted from NAAEE as a blueprint for the states.
    3. US Partnership website (Note the Oregon plan failed to mention who the US is partnering with.
    Diana Anderson
    Former Oregon Teacher and Researcher

  • I want to share this review from the National Association of Scholars on the 2011 standards with friends and family but I feel like it’s not clear just where the commentary from them ends (and from whom exactly it comes from is not stated). Any way to clear this up so that a focused link can be shared?

    • Sorry to have taken so long to respond. This review appeared on a website established by the legislature to show the various reviews that is no longer available. I have searched for it in other places on the internet, but it does not appear to be available. It appears to have been written jointly by the professors listed at the end of it, so maybe you could contact one of them or the administrative assistants for the education committees at the legislature for an active link.

  • Is the premise of ELW that curriculum should be created along a classical structure where one moves from factual data to abstract and critical thinking? The comments in this article seem to point out such an assumption.

    I am glad to see that people want to discuss the Social Studies standards. As a Social Studies Teacher in Minnesota I have taught using all three standards mentioned (Profiles of Learning, 2004 Standards and now on to the 2011 Standards). One thing I’ve noted, however, is the lack of public concern regarding SS standards. The Department of Education has had multiple public meetings around the state where literally no one showed up for the meeting other than the officials from MDE. MDE has provided parents and citizens with ample opportunity to voice concerns. I have no problem with voicing concern even now, but I wish people had been active from the inception of the new standards. What you see suggested in the 2011 draft is something that has been hashed out for at least two years through multiple committees.
    The reason for changing the 2004 standards was two-fold. First, while there were well over 400 individual benchmarks in the standards, the standards were loosely arranged in regard to grades at which they should be taught. The 2011 version tries to clarify the times in which materials should be taught. Second, with over 400 individual benchmarks required the 2004 standards were cumbersome and impossible to fully teach. The 2011 standards seek to streamline and condense material so that the material can be taught from K-12 grade.

    Why is the latter important? In a ruling of MDE vs BlueSky Online Charter School, the commissioner (Brenda Cassillius) stated that Minnesota public schools must teach every benchmark to every student as the benchmark is written. Failure to teach even one benchmark and assess that benchmark is breaking the law. So…if one student misses even one benchmark and is not assessed in that benchmark by the time they are scheduled to graduate…that student is being given an illegal diploma and the school is liable to being shut down.

    Since the Social Studies standards were so unwieldy the MDE has attempted to make it easier for teachers to ensure that all benchmarks are fully taught and assessed to all students. This is the likely cause of more general statements and a streamlined standard.

    I encourage all Minnesota citizens to continue to voice opinions on the standards and seek to get what is best for Minnesota. I tend to accept the philosophical premise of classical education and the trivium so I would encourage discussions regarding more fact based standards from grades K-4 while expanding critical thinking skills in middle school and high school.

    I do hope, however, that no one accuse the MDE of trying to push through an agenda in secret. That has not been the case. The public has been offered numerous opportunities for input.

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