Michigan Sen. David Knezek: Social studies changes are ‘mind-numbing’

State Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights

In dueling speeches on the Michigan Senate floor Tuesday night, state Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, and state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Twp., debated controversial changes in a draft of new social studies standards in Michigan classrooms. This is a transcript of Knezek’s speech. (A transcript of Colbeck’s response can be found here.) 

As you know, we are in the process of rewriting the social studies curriculum here in the state of Michigan, and if you are anything like me, you believe that historians should write our history textbooks, you believe that teachers should teach those textbooks, and you believe that politicians should probably keep their noses out of both of those pieces of business.

Unfortunately, as we learned earlier today in a wonderful article, one of our colleagues in this chamber is attempting to exert an undue amount of influence on the process of rewriting our social studies curriculum, and it is not hyperbole for me to say that they are quite literally attempting to rewrite history.

And so let me just quickly jump into some of the things that are being proposed as new curriculum standards here in the state of Michigan. First, a complete rebranding for the Ku Klux Klan, and I quote, to say that “the KKK was founded as an anti-Republican organization, not an anti-black organization.” Truly a mind-numbing sentence.

Second, to say that every reference to the common good should be eliminated, to say that every reference to diversity should be eliminated, to say that every reference to justice should be eliminated; and the next two components, Madam President—the amount of mental gymnastics that has to go into putting these two sentences side-by-side, it truly is impressive—No. 1, to reduce any reference to one of the three Abrahamic faiths. As you may have guessed, this individual wants to reduce any reference to the faith of Islam and to Muslims, and then in the very next sentence, wants to add a section to our curriculum to talk about the erosion of religious freedom.

Imagine being so ignorant and so bigoted and, at the same time, such a delicate little snowflake that you have to eliminate the existence of another faith’s religion from our curriculum and to then talk about how you yourself are the one being persecuted.

Let me continue, Madam President. Five references to the NAACP and the role that they played in desegregation, eliminated. Every reference to the LGBT community, eliminated. Every reference to Roe v. Wade, eliminated.

When talking about expanding civil rights for immigrants or members of the disability community, eliminated. Every reference to climate change, eliminated.

And the last one, again, truly mind-numbing, to eliminate the phrase “core democratic values.” When I was in high school, I understood the phrase “core democratic values” to refer to core values of our democracy. However, the good Senator believes the word “democratic” references the Democratic Party. We as high schoolers understood the difference.

Imagine being so focused on requiring the English language to be taught as the state language here in Michigan, to be so focused on English being required of every single immigrant as they set foot in this state, and at the same time struggling with the concept of capitalization. What a disappointment. Perhaps the individual should focus more on English language arts and a little less on the process of social studies.

Madam President, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that we cannot move forward as a state until we accept our past as a state. We may not be proud of some of that history, and certainly we may not agree with some of that history, but we owe it to our children to teach them that history. That is what the founders of this country meant when they spoke about a more perfect union — to ensure that the good things that we do in this country continue and the bad things in this country go away.

And so I hope that the people of Michigan will stand with me as we move forward in ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table and the history of every Michigander is preserved in our social studies curriculum. Thank you.

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Mitchell Robinson
Thu, 06/14/2018 - 11:04am

Thank you, Sen. Knezek.

Finding the Middle
Fri, 06/15/2018 - 6:42am

Finally, someone who will say it like it is. There are crazy people in the Senate and their influence is growing to cult-like status. We need to stand behind facts, now matter what party the truth come from, and fight for facts to remain front and center.

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 2:19pm

Thank you Sen. Knezek ! Finally a voice of reason and fairness. A commentor earlier mentioned the appearance of a non-human cult in the senate which has had a chance to happen when the party in power has too much power for too long a period of time. In this case Republicans who have achieved Godlike powers to enact anything proposed to them by their business friends or those far outside the norm. This is why an imbalance of power can be good as nobody gets their way all the time. So people - the ballot box is the way to restore balance by getting rid of the Republicans who have not represented their voters but only business interests and the crazies. Do you need any more evidence to get out and vote?

Sat, 06/16/2018 - 12:33pm

"First, a complete rebranding for the Ku Klux Klan, and I quote, to say that 'the KKK was founded as an anti-Republican organization, not an anti-black organization.'”

You do understand the Southern Strategy? You can not say anti- N word, and anti - black as it has negative connotations. You can say ant-Republican as it is abstract even though most Black Americans were Republican then.

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 5:21pm

The Republican Party in Michigan has become the party of stupid. Ideologic legislature that has nothing to do with the real problems facing the citizens of Michigan while trying to make this a one party state (AKA a dictatorship).
This is one more example of the march to stupidity by the GOP.
Time for change in our legislature; time for some adults to come in and get focussed on the real issues and put the state ahead of party.

Sun, 06/17/2018 - 10:38pm

I hope the MI State School Board is successful in blocking the attempt by Conservative politicians to "white-wash" history. Their changes are indeed "mind-numbing." Shame on them!

Larry Levy
Mon, 06/18/2018 - 10:20am

The proposed conservative curriculum revisions parallel those occurring in other GOP majority states. In short, they project onto their opponents the sins they are themselves committing. They want to substitute a bland, whitewashed survey (what they call "neutral") for one that has more respect for history as a full-blooded discipline. They want textbooks that teach students to believe rather than to think.

Ed Haynor
Mon, 06/18/2018 - 5:44pm

As it concerns Michigan Social Studies Standards, particularly as it relates to focus groups, those individuals in those groups must have some expertise in Social Studies, don’t they?

Reading over Senator Patrick Colbeck’s biography on his website, shows no Social Studies expertise. So, why on earth was he invited to serve and why was he allowed to bring along two additional “conservative additions,” who apparently don’t have any expertise either?

This decision by someone within the bowels of the Michigan Department of Education, reeks of a planted republican agitator with the intention to rewrite history, both on the part of the Department of Education and Sen. Colbeck. If I was a Michigan Department of Education Board Member, regardless of party affiliation, this would give me great concern.

In trying to be fair to Sen. Colbeck, I see on his website, he does have some expertise in Science and Engineering. But Science and Engineering are a far cry from Social Studies.

In the final analysis though, I agree with Sen. Knezek; a legislator has no reason being on a Michigan Department of Education School Standards committee, regarding any subject matter, since they’re partisan, therefore disqualify themselves.

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 10:04am

Have you read the proposed standards? Here's a link https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/SS_May_2018_Cut_Cap_Final_622356_...

I am a middle school social studies teacher, I promise you it's not nearly as bad as you think and the changes in instructional language overall are a huge improvement, especially in 6th/7th grade which is a total restructuring of the curriculum that needs to happen. This is not because of Colbeck it's because of educational experts that were utilized.

Ed Haynor
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 10:48am

My comments were in regards to the qualifications of Sen. Colbeck, which you didn't address, so as a Michigan teacher, you must support him politically, or are just incredibly naive.

"Nearly as bad," really? In regards to proposed new standards, how does a person qualify the word "bad."

I did download the standards several days ago and have been reading the document, but with the standards being 148 pages long and incredibly marked up, it's not an easy read.

Overall though, I do disagree with what Sen. Colbeck is proposing and I hope that the State Board of Education dismisses them in their entirety, because of his apparent political motives. I'm also troubled that it appears that much of the red-lining is an attempt by the committee to take out practical examples of what standards statements mean. If this is the case, then I suspect new standards will completely be up to social studies teachers to interpret what they mean on their own, which appears not to be in the best interest of students, teachers or school districts. Without having standards and examples of what they mean or how they can be used, creates a scenario where teachers themselves could rewrite history, which in the end, appears to be the goal of Sen. Colbeck.

Chris S
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 4:02pm

Yikes! This guy thinks he know U.S. history? I can find you 8th graders who have a better grip on U.S. history and terminology used to describe it. Does he know that the KKK was most definitely neither Democrats nor Republicans but truly let their racism and hate overpower any party affiliation? Anti-Republican? what? huh? Ask him what party Lincoln was? Think Colbeck's Republicans resemble the party of Lincoln in any way recognizable to the folks who joined the Ku Klux Klan? Anti-Republican??? Nice try, ace. Anti-Republican only in that it was Lincoln's party . Good luck finding a textbook that identifies the KKK as anti-Republican... This may also point out why we NEED public schools...which have their origins tied to Kalamazoo and to Michigan. AND why we have those who would like to take public school dollars and "assign them" to each child... in vouchers so they can "choose" a school that fits their parents' screwball views and racism.

Tue, 06/26/2018 - 3:45pm

I would not politically support Senator Colbeck. The redline sections with the examples were deleted from the standard but moved to the margin where teachers are encouraged to also include additional examples. Also, you should check out the 2007 GLCEs try to unpack 6th and 7th grade- then compare it to the clean version currently being debated. The 2007 standards in middle school are currently very much up to teachers to interpret - this restructuring helps clarify the scope and sequence of social studies in those grades. The goal is to write expectations that are about critical thinking and comparative thought rather than a list of knowledge to acquire - which is why the specific examples were moved to the margin.

Carolyn S.
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 4:29pm

Sen. Knezek,
Everything you said makes perfect sense, therefore I did not bother to read the rebuttal, as I'm sure it was pure nonsense. Our children deserve the opportunity to know history as it happened, not how some one else perceives it to be, or lack there of.

John Chronowski
Thu, 06/28/2018 - 5:30pm

Senator Knezek:
Your comments are right on! Eliminating concepts like common good, diversity and justice
is mind boggling. These are values which are foundations of this country. They are " core democratic values" which all citizens must never forget and cease to utter.

James Eric Fuller
Wed, 10/30/2019 - 12:11pm

" ...... And they will turn away their ears from truth, and shall be turned into fables." - Timothy. The Republican wrecking machine rewriting history so as to make way for a dumbed-down, anti-intellectual education system. The Powell Memorandum has been mostly fulfilled, but let us not act the part of the cultural relativists who opened their minds so much their brains fell out.