James Baldwin once asked, "It's taken my father's time, my mother's time … my niece's and my nephew's time. How much time do you want for your progress?"
Katherine Kersten now insists we take our children's time as well ("Woke revolution looms for schools," Opinion Exchange, Feb. 7).
Blatant fearmongering veiled as patriotism and concern for students cannot stand. As a member of the Social Studies Standards Committee — and as a member of a "demographic special interest group," to quote Kersten — I feel compelled to respond.
Across this country, those in the global majority routinely have been cast as tertiary characters in the predominantly Euro-American narrative of history textbooks. This is also mirrored in our current state standards, through clear sanitizations of colonialism and the historical racist roots of our country, as evidenced by the fact that the word racism only appears twice, and in both instances referring to the time period of 1870-1920.
While slavery appears more often, it is often referred to either as just "one reason" for the Civil War or as an "economic system."
Research shows that the overwhelming predominance of Euro-American perspectives leads many Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) students to disengage from academics.
However, according to Katherine, we are "scandalously misinformed."
Kersten goes further and makes the accusation that the work the committee is engaged in is "directly contradicting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s colorblind ideal." Katherine's interpretation of history is incorrect, and is a grave mischaracterization of King, who dreamed of a United States in which all people were created equal and were not judged by the color of their skin. King never advocated for our Black and brown communities to abdicate and erase our diversity or similarly not recognize and acknowledge whiteness.
Race has always mattered in this country, from the moment the Founding Fathers wrote that all men are created equal and in the same breath counted enslaved Black people as only partially human. Asserting that race does not matter is privilege. It not only dismisses the current lived experiences of people of color but also trivializes the centuries of legalized discrimination faced by people of color throughout American history.
Additionally, Katherine takes issue with the fact that "The new standards include a strikingly disproportionate emphasis on Indigenous people [who] make up about 1% of Minnesota's population, but nearly 20% of the committee."
To complain about the higher percentage of Native Americans on the committee this year but not to complain about the historic underrepresentation of Indigenous leaders on the many boards, commissions and councils in Minnesota in years past is not only a cowardly move but also a hypocritical one.
Kersten concludes her rant with the assertion that we are "rewriting history," but hasn't given one example of a new inclusion that's false. Instead she lists items that she thinks have no value in the study of American history, one of them being partus sequitur ventrem, a legal doctrine that stated children born of a mother then in a state of slavery follow the condition of their mother.
This 1622 edict was a revolutionary departure from English tradition, which had stated that citizenship was passed down through fathers. The ramifications of this change not only shaped the progress of slavery, as it allowed for a continuous supply of enslaved people, but also deprived thousands of Black people of citizenship and political power, the effects of which are still felt today.
Gov. Tim Walz stated that "Minnesota consistently ranks highly for our public schools, innovation and opportunity, and happiness — if you're white. If you're not, the opposite is true.
"Systemic racism must be addressed if we are to secure justice, peace and order for all Minnesotans."
Teaching systemic racism isn't indoctrination. Showing our BIPOC students that their people are resilient and have made lasting impressions on history isn't being "woke." It's being honest and owning our history, "warts and all." It is also just one of the first steps we are making to right the many wrongs of our education system.
Education, as much as we like to call it the great equalizer, doesn't exist in a vacuum. The work to create a more equitable system doesn't end with the social studies standards — in fact it is just the beginning.
Aaliyah Hodge is a Black woman and a member of the Minnesota Social Studies Standards Committee.