COMMENT SUBMITTED BY AMERICAN PRINCIPLES IN ACTION REGARDING MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION’S PROPOSED PERMANENT RULES RELATING TO SOCIAL STUDIES ACADEMIC STANDARDS
American Principles in Action (APIA) and its sister organization, American Principles Project, are organizations that work to restore America’s founding principles as embodied in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. APIA is concerned that the Minnesota Department of Education’s Proposed Permanent Rules Relating to Social Studies Academic Standards advance an unconstitutional and illegal scheme by which the federal government seeks to establish control over public-school curriculum nationwide.
Minnesota officials decided in 2010 to adopt the English Language Arts (ELA) portion of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). CCSSI is an initiative controlled by the federal government and private interests in Washington, DC, and designed to impose national K-12 standards in ELA and mathematics. By adopting CCSSI’s ELA standards, Minnesota has become part of a scheme that violates three federal statutes prohibiting federal supervision, direction, or control of school curricula.
Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert, former deputy general counsel and general counsel, respectively, of the U.S. Department of Education, have concluded that CCSSI (which includes national standards and aligned assessments) “will ultimately direct the course of elementary and secondary study in most states across the nation, running the risk that states will become little more than administrative agents for a nationalized K-12 program of instruction and raising a fundamental question about whether the Department is exceeding its statutory boundaries.” The General Education Provisions Act prohibits the Department from “exercise[ing] any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel” of any school. Similar prohibitions exist in the Department of Education Organization Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. As noted by Eitel and Talbert, “[s]tandards drive curriculum, programs of instruction, and the selection of instructional materials. A change to common K-12 standards will inevitably result” in changes to all these elements to align with the standards. The bottom line: CCSSI standards will ultimately dictate curricula, in violation of three federal statutes.
Nor will this effect on curriculum be limited to the English language arts and mathematics curricula. CCSSI’s ELA standards include a raft of standards labeled “literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects.” Through these “literacy” standards, CCSSI will control or at least influence the curricula in other subject areas. Thus, the original transgression of imposing national standards and, ultimately, a national curriculum in ELA, is compounded by the ELA standards’ effect on these other areas.
This is what is happening through the Minnesota Department of Education’s proposed social studies standards. Noting that some of the proposed standards might duplicate the ELA “literacy” standards, especially those relating to accuracy, bias, and relevancy of information, the Department of Education drafting committee carefully considered how the revised social studies standards would complement, but not duplicate, the 2010 [CCSSI] English language arts standards. Literacy skills play a fundamental role in social studies education as students tackle numerous complex reading, writing and research projects. The 2011 social studies standards build upon, but do not duplicate, these foundational literacy skills.”
The Department of Education then lists three ELA standards and one proposed history standard to illustrate the “complementary” nature of the two sets of standards. The Department of Education’s deferral to the ELA standards (with their contribution to an unlawful federally controlled curriculum in English language arts) will mean that this unlawful federal control will bleed into Minnesota’s social studies standards as well.
The creators and proponents of CCSSI assured skeptical states from the beginning that the Common Core standards are only for ELA and mathematics. Indeed, many states signed on to CCSSI with that understanding, and with the belief that they would still be able to control their own standards in other subject areas. The proposed Minnesota social standards illustrate the folly of that belief. Just as the decision to adopt CCSSI ELA standards is now influencing social studies, it will inevitably affect science and other subjects in the future. If these social studies standards are adopted, Minnesota will be more inextricably entangled in the unlawful federally controlled curriculum. For this reason, APIA urges the Department of Education to revisit these proposed standards to respect the rights of Minnesota parents and local officials to exercise full control over their social studies standards.
December 20, 1012
Testimony concerning the proposed revised Minnesota Social Studies Standards
My name is Julie Quist. I am a mother of ten grown children and a grandmother of many more. I was born in southeastern Minnesota, and I currently live in southern Minnesota near St. Peter.
John Adams, one of the most well-known of the founders of our Republic and our second President, said: “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”
He also said: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” He understood education in the principles of liberty to be key to preserving that liberty.
With those words in mind, I would like to call attention to a serious flaw within these proposed new Social Studies standards which, I believe, goes to the heart of many other objections within the document.
Inalienable rights are given short shrift. In fact, inalienable rights are almost completely erased from existence within the new standards. The rights that are identified in the Declaration of Independence and in the U.S. Constitution come from the revolutionary acknowledgement that “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” This exceptional idea—God-given rights, freedom—has impacted millions of people throughout the world. It has brought masses of people to our shores “yearning to breathe free.”
This central idea within the Declaration of Independence articulates our identity, that which binds us together as a nation and defines what uniquely it means to be an American. Our country, our Republic, isn’t united by race. We aren’t united by religion. We are united by our civil creed that rocked the world in the 18th century—All men are created equal, rights to life, to liberty and to property—rights that governments may and do often violate, but that remain our rights nonetheless.
Throughout these standards, instead, rights are continually referred to as “individual” rights. A world of difference exists between individual rights which are created by government, which may be legislated away, and rights with which we came into this world. Civics Standard #5 states that citizenship rights are created by laws. While there is certainly some truth to that statement, the standards never distinguish what rights are inalienable, rights protected by government, not bestowed by government.
Will we really leave inalienable rights behind in our standards? Will we really refuse to teach that revolutionary American core of freedom to the next generations?
Only once in the entire set of standards and benchmarks is there a single reference to inalienable rights, and that is merely an example. This is astounding and raises serious questions about the overall philosophical grounding of the education community today. Do they believe our rights are inalienable? And if so, would these not be central to the study of Civics and our nation’s history?
This disappearance of the central idea of inalienable rights shows up in a number of standards, such as the Civic Standard #2 which discusses our civic identity: “The civic identity of the United States is shaped by historical figures, places and events, and by key foundational documents and other symbolically important artifacts.”
While students must know the symbols, the traditions, the songs, they never are to understand, in this standard or its benchmarks, what those symbols, songs, and traditions symbolize. The idea of liberty, that idea that we are all created equal and with inalienable rights that government cannot violate, is the heart of patriotic artifacts, symbols, the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance. This standard teaches students only the externals and never the meaning, robbing our children of their precious heritage of freedom.
The lack of recognition of the central idea of the foundation of the United States of America, inalienable rights that are God-given, appears to color much else within this standards document. I leave it to others to identify them. A primary goal of Social Studies Standards and of education in general ought to be to transfer the American principles of freedom on to the next generation—not simply to prepare them for college and careers, and that should be stated clearly.
In summary, these revisions ought to go back to the drawing board, not adopted into Rule.
Thank you for the opportunity to address these important issues.
It seems impossible to satisfy all the stakeholders. Some testimony heard today is from special interests seeking to add “one more thing” to the standard, believing that if not in the standard, it won’t be taught. Those who actually have to do the teaching complain that there is far too much in the standard to do a decent job of covering the material. I respect the 40 people and their efforts, but their job is very difficult.
I’d like to step back and ask a vital question. Why do we teach “social studies” – civics, geography, economics and history? What is the purpose?
We teach our children these things in order to explain and inculcate the intellectual and ideological foundations on which our culture rests.
History is especially important because it gives to our young the wisdom of human experience. It tells where we’ve been, and how we came to be where we are, not just physically, but intellectually and spiritually. It tells our students what has worked, and what failed. It inspires them with the amazing accomplishments of those who went before us, and cautions them against repeating old mistakes. It provides perspective to help put new events in their proper place. History reminds us that deceptively simple solutions to complex problems have been tried before, and are almost always wrong.
Civics is basic training in citizenship. Without instruction in how our republic works, and full understanding of what can go wrong, our republic will wither into the certain tyranny that marks the rest of human history. Citizens need to understand their vital role. More importantly, they need motivation — reasons to care about doing the hard work of citizenship.
So, I come to this hearing asking a question: Do these proposed new standards enhance the effort to teach our children these absolutely essential things?
Unfortunately, the answer appears to be an emphatic “no”.
Do not misunderstand. I recognize and appreciate all the work that has gone into these standards, and realize that the authors are every bit as dedicated to producing a good outcome as I am. There is much to like in these new standards, but fatal flaws demand correction.
Here are the standards of greatest concern. Detailed quotes, footnotes, and links will be available in the final written testimony that I will submit along with suggested amendments. Readers interested in an excellent book that chronicles the battle against the education and media establishment to develop rigorous social studies standards actually considered exemplary by the MN social studies standards committee that accurately portray the good America has done and well as her faults and have children learn well the foundational principles of America, please read TEXAS TROUNCES THE LEFT’S WAR ON HISTORY by Bill Ames, a citizen activist and member of the social studies standards committee, available here.
CIVICS AND GOVERNMENT:
Civics Standard 1: The student will understand that democratic government depends on informed and engaged citizens who exhibit civic skills and values, practice civic discourse, vote and participate in elections, apply inquiry and analysis skills, and take action to solve problems and shape public policy.
The concept of unalienable rights is relegated to the level of untested examples instead of in the mandatory benchmarks as in 2004. Unless students learn the uniquely American foundational principle that the purpose of government is to protect unalienable rights of life, liberty and property (pursuit of happiness), the civic skills and abilities described above are useless and empty. Students will not have the knowledge base to perform any of them and do what is necessary to maintain our republic and our freedoms.
Civics Standard 2: The student will understand that the civic identity of the United States is shaped by historical figures, places, and events, and by key foundational documents and other symbolically important artifacts.
The American identity is far more than “artifacts” of a bygone era. It is shaped by a set of timeless, “self-evident” principles that many have sacrificed “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” to protect and perpetuate. Many of these “historical figures, places and events” and “key foundational documents have been lowered in importance from standards to benchmarks or to untested examples or removed altogether from the 2004 standards document.
Civics Standard 3: The student will understand that the United States is based on democratic values and principles that include liberty, individual rights, justice, equality, the rule of law, limited government, common good, popular sovereignty, majority rule, and minority rights.
It is critically important for Minnesota children to learn that the source of their rights is natural law (“nature and nature’s God” as described in the Declaration of Independence), not governments instituted by man – in other words that their rights are inherent. Without that understanding, they will not be able to adequately analyze the effects on American sovereignty and our unalienable rights of international documents and agreements that various bodies are attempting to foist on the US with ever increasing frequency. Being able to critically analyze the effects of these agreements on America is far more important than being trained to become “effective global citizens” as advocated by the Department of Education in their Statement of Need and Reasonableness (SONAR – p. 45).
Civics Standard 11: The student will understand that international political and economic institutions influence world affairs and United States foreign policy.
Students need to have a better understanding of the radical difference in philosophy of rights between the United States and these international bodies and their member nations than is embodied in this standard. The US protects inherent rights. International bodies do not.
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