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

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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