On Jan. 16, Katherine Kersten provided her views about the impact proposed changes to the social studies curriculum will have on our kids ("Ethnic studies will turn schools into extremist boot camps," Opinion Exchange). I agree with the main thrust of her comments, but there is something even more disturbing than the addition of an ethnic stand to the curriculum.
The number of classroom hours is fixed. If curriculum is added, then something must be removed. In the case of the proposed standards and benchmarks, what is being eviscerated is the canon of Western civilization that our society and government is built upon. No matter if your ancestors came on the Mayflower or if you're a recent immigrant, kids (and adults) need to learn and understand the antecedents of how and why our government was formed. If Western civilization is removed from the curriculum, your children will not understand the 2,300 years of work, sweat and tears that resulted in a liberal democratic republic.
I listened to all of the public deliberations of the team formed by the Minnesota Department of Education and have read enough of the studies to agree that there is value in including the history of all our citizens, and using this as a means of closing educational gaps. However, the pendulum has swung too far. We can and must strike a balance between inclusion and retaining the essential philosophical and political thought, stretching from Plato to John Locke, that built the republic we have, one that continues its effort to form a more perfect union.
Jeff Niedenthal, Grove City, Minn.
Opinion editor's note: Readers can view the current draft of the full standards at tinyurl.com/mn-standards.
Kersten has misrepresented the valuable work of the 36 citizens who worked to update the Minnesota social studies standards.
According to law, the standards must be updated every 10 years. The process begins when the Minnesota Department of Education invites citizens to be part of the review committee. Anyone may apply. Teachers, school administrators, school board members, college teachers, members of the business community, parents, representatives from the Tribal Nations Education Council, or any interested adults are encouraged to participate.
Over 200 people volunteered; 44 people were chosen, and ultimately 36 participated. The commitee reviewed the current standards then held three public listening sessions. The committee released its first draft and held three public comment town halls that month. There was also an opportunity to make comments online. This process continued through three drafts. The opportunity for commenting on the third draft closed on Jan. 14.
During a WCCO segment in December, Anoka High School world history and African American history teacher Lomumba Ismail said that deciding what to teach in the classroom is a collaborative effort among the state, district schools and teachers.
Doug Paulson, director of the Minnesota Department of Education Academic Division Standards, said: "The goal is that the revised standards would become more culturally responsive and culturally affirming," and that after the committee receives feedback, ultimately 99% of what the committee recommends will be accepted by the Commissioner of Education.
It seems to me that the public has an opportunity to be a member of the commission, and that people from all over the state have an opportunity to weigh in with their thoughts. I personally took the opportunity to make comments online. This is a collaborative process.
Jeanne Thompson, Plymouth
Once again, Kersten has left me wondering if her opinion pieces reflect willful misrepresentation or simply ignorance. In either case, beware the writer who makes her case based on a scattering of single quoted words. With no context, those words could mean just about anything.
Cyndy Crist, St. Paul
Kersten portrays the proposed standards, specifically those dealing with ethnic studies, as a road map for resistance that will start "kids down the road of political activism." What she does not report is that the first standard of the Citizenship and Government section is: "Civic Skills: Apply civic reasoning and demonstrate civic skills, including civic discourse, for the purpose of informed and engaged lifelong civic participation." Understanding how to do this and the context in which to do it requires a broader understanding of an inclusive Minnesota; one that considers the underprivileged and marginalized than is provided our current educational standards.
John C. Hay, St. Paul
Kersten seems to imply that Minnesota students are either ignorant or illiterate. She and others I have met have forgotten that students have cellphones and internet access. They can look up anything they want to know. Those who had distance learning at school during this COVID-time are even better at it. And news is fed to them without their bothering to look for it. I check the weather on my phone, and Google feeds me news. Facebook feeds news. Students can observe their environment in real time. They don't need teachers to tell them about racism; they can see it around them in school. Telling them only that American is great and never does any wrong will not make them patriotic, it will only make them confused, because they will find out about the wrongdoing. Truth never hurt anyone; only lies hurt.
Ann Klein, Lakeville
BEING AN ALLY …
… or speaking up in the moment
Reflecting on "How I learned to be an ally" (Laura Yuen's Jan. 16 column recalling a friend's e-mail to a comedian who had targeted Yuen based on her race during a show), I have a story on how not to be an ally.
I was a student in an MBA program in 1986, and there were very few women in the program. All new students took the first class together. The class consisted of case studies that we would analyze with the professor's guidance. The first case study was about a tableware business (plates, glasses, etc.) with supply chain issues. The next case study was about a small-engine company (engines like those used on chain saws or leaf blowers).
At the start of the class the professor walked over to an area of the classroom where most of the few women sat, looked at the women and asked, "Maybe some of you aren't exactly sure what a small engine is. Should we bring in some examples for the next class so you can see them?" I raised my hand and said "Maybe we need to take a step backwards. Maybe some of the men in the class don't know what tableware is — should we bring in some examples for them?"
My voice was shaking, but maybe not noticeably. Everyone got quiet. The professor backed up and mumbled something about seeing my point, then moved on with the small-engine case study.
After class I went to the women's restroom, and several classmates came up to me and thanked me for speaking up. Ever since then, I've called this "bathroom support." Nobody supported me in public; nobody else spoke to the person committing the offense. I guess bathroom support is better than no support, but not by a lot. How to be an ally? Speak up in public. Speak up in the moment.
Erica Klein, Richfield
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