There is a poignant and farcical commonality to the opposing views on Minnesota social studies standards expressed by Katherine Kersten ("Woke revolution looms for schools," Feb. 7) and by Aaliyah Hodge ("Why we need new social studies standards," Feb. 11).
Neither standards that give more attention to the abuse of Native Americans and other minority groups in American history — as advocated by Hodge — nor the currently prevailing, more traditional standards — dating to 2004 and touted by Kersten — will be taught in the classrooms of most Minnesota school districts, including the Minneapolis Public Schools.
The standards created in 2004 were consistent with the movement at the time for measurable, objective indicators of student performance. They were consonant with the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a bipartisan piece of federal legislation supported by both Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic stalwart Sen. Ted Kennedy. The idea was to induce attention to fundamental math and reading skills while establishing more rigorous curricula across the liberal arts, imparted to students of all races.
But the forces of both the left (including teachers unions and the education establishment) and right (including one-time NCLB backers among Republicans who succumbed to pressure from constituencies that objected to federal intervention in local and state curriculum standards) eventually worked toward the demise of NCLB and associated standards.
As the Minnesota education establishment's embarrassment mounted over massive student failure on the objective Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs), opposition to the MCAs and the standards increased. Nonwhite and lower-income students performed particularly badly, but even students from school districts typically overhyped for educational quality, such as Edina and Minnetonka, performed poorly on a mathematics MCA that students in Taiwan and Singapore would find laughable for lack of rigor.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board joined the chorus for jettisoning NCLB, which died a slow death and gave way to a kind of federal NCLB-lite dubbed the Every Students Succeed Act (ESSA) and on the state level to ineffective programs such as World's Best Work Force (WBWF) and Regional Centers of Excellence (RCE), emanating from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
More important, resistance at the classroom level to Minnesota's state standards was ongoing. The standards were never taught in the Minneapolis Public Schools and most other school districts, nor were students ever prepared by aggressive provision of the grade-level skills necessary to perform well on the MCAs.
Education Minnesota and local affiliates such as the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) opposed the standards and the MCAs from the moment of their introduction. And even had there been an inclination in the education establishment to impart the knowledge and skills associated with the standards, most teachers are incapable of doing so because of low knowledge bases and pedagogical incompetence traceable to teacher training programs.
As for themes pertinent to the experiences of Native Americans and other minority groups as advocated in new standards touted by Hodge — those will not be implemented either. The opportunity exists now for teachers to present such material to students; they do not do so.
Prospective elementary school teachers receive the most academically insubstantial training of any students matriculating on a college or university campus. Few secondary teachers have mastery over the subject matter for which they are formally certified. Teachers are deficient in knowledge pertinent to history, literature, fine arts, mathematics and the natural sciences. They have no mastery of the history, literature and fine arts of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/Latinas, Hmong or Somali students. Their main pedagogical recourse is to distribute boring worksheets, assign individual and group projects with little background information, and to show videos that go unexplained and undiscussed.
Thus, the aims of both Kersten and Hodge will be unattained. Kersten's appeal for the presentation of factual knowledge, chronological events and people, and Hodge's call for attention to nonwhite cultures, are poignant for the passion exhibited by both writers. But the farcical nature of the system assures that neither knowledge-intensive curriculum nor ethnic-specific themes will be presented in the classrooms of the Minneapolis Public Schools and most other locally centralized school districts.
Reform will never be accomplished through national or state processes in the United States, given the nation's mania for local control. The necessary overhaul of curriculum and teacher quality must become the goal of a locally centralized school district that can then become the model for such change.
My own efforts are to induce such an overhaul at the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Gary Marvin Davison is director of the New Salem Educational Initiative in north Minneapolis. He blogs at newsalemeducation.blogspot.com.