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Michigan Sen. Patrick Colbeck: ‘There is a culture war going on’

In dueling speeches on the floor of the Michigan Senate Tuesday, 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 a Colbeck’s response to Knezek’s speech. (A transcript of Knezek’s speech can be found here.) 

I’d like to start with a quote from one of my favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan, who once said, “The trouble with liberals is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” I am afraid that applies to my colleague from the Fifth District in regards to these social studies standards.

When it comes to those social study standards, we had a nice little discussion back in 2015, there was a submittal from the State Board of Education for some standards. I got together with 17 other legislators and signed a letter that had about 15 different issues with those standards because they were not politically neutral and they were not accurate.

For example, they would sit there and promote Islam to the exclusion of any other religion; they would promote LGBT rights to the exclusion of religious conscience; they would promote progressive policies to the exclusion of conservative policies. I didn’t think that was right.

I didn’t propose to go off and eliminate the discussion of Islam like he suggests. I didn’t promote the elimination of the discussion of any of those topics. All I wanted to do was make sure we had a balanced discussion of both of those topics, that we had a balanced discussion perspective. After all, this is going into the education of our students.

A lot of the stuff that he is promoting, frankly, is not true. There is a lot of stuff that explicitly added in some of the standards before that was (re)moved as referenced, but that isn’t because we didn’t want teachers to go off and teach it. It was because it fell into a detail level that was not the same as all the standards. So we can say we eliminated references to the KKK and all the other stuff that is out there, but you know what? When we actually got into the discussions, we found out that whenever we wanted to talk about some of these different issues we actually had an adult conversation on it with the people who were involved in these focus groups.

We didn’t go around calling people names, as has been the custom of the senator from the Fifth District here. He seems to make a habit of that. I think we are called to a higher calling than that here in Senate. We are called to have an adult conversation. That is what we had during this focus group. We had people from various and very diverse political ideologies coming together under the basic objective of making sure that our social studies standards for the next generation of leaders for this state were going to be politically neutral and accurate.

I believe we achieved that.

Are these the standards that I would have written from scratch? Heck, no. But you know what? We had a lot of discussions where we had people make compromises across the board, and we came up with something that I was happy to say was politically neutral and accurate.

A lot of people dealing with the complete opposite side of the worldview from me appreciated the discussion because we did have an adult conversation. I wish that adult conversation would extend here to the Senate floor. I really do.

As we go forward into the public comment period for these social studies standards, there are a lot of people trying to politicize this. We have news outlets that are trying to politicize it. We need to face the fact that there is a culture war that is going on. Unfortunately, it is our schools that are on the front line. There are some people who don’t want to hear the other side of the discussion. They don’t want to hear about conservative policies.

These standards actually make sure that we don’t exclude any of the other voices out there. We don’t exclude these sensitive topics around racism, we don’t exclude the sensitive topic around LGBT rights. What we do is we put them in context of what is going on in our society where we have a counterbalance with it, and we have other people with other perspectives that need to be heard as well.

You may try to shout down and ridicule and belittle people that are just simply trying to have a balanced discussion on it. But I, for one, am proud of the results that we had out of this focus group. It took two years of serious discussions. It has been four years in an attempt to have a serious discussion and we haven’t had that adult conversation from the senator from the Fifth District. You should talk to some of the other people who participated in that focus group because they did have a mature discussion and we came up with something that was very well done, I believe, and it was on some very sensitive subjects.

I just want to say for those who are curious about what is in those standards, go look at them. Look at them in context of the standards we started with and you be the judge of whether or not we achieved the objective of being politically neutral or accurate. I believe we achieved that goal.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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