Opinion | Where’s Moses? New Michigan social studies standards are biased.

Michael Warren is an Oakland County Circuit Court judge, co-creator of Patriot Week, and author of “America’s Survival Guide.”

That our society is fraying all around us is self-evident. Poisonous partisan politics, as well as scandals and corruption in government, military, banking, education, churches and social organizations have plagued us for years. It is in times like these that we must come together. One often overlooked foundation for our nation is how and what we teach in the social studies.

Students who understand our history and civics are best equipped to contribute mightily to our society and deal with the threats to our freedoms and liberties. Those who are misinformed and ignorant of our history and Constitution are easy fodder for oppression and demagogues. This is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue. It is about the survival of freedom.

A former member and employee of the State Board of Education, I wrote the policy that mandated the adoption of  K-12 social studies standards. I influenced the development of our current standards (adopted in 2007), and was involved in drafting revisions that were sent for public comment in 2018. The 2007 standards and 2018 draft were far from perfect (indeed, I was highly critical in some areas). For reasons less to do with the standards and more to do with partisan politics and misinformation, the 2018 draft standards were sent for further revision, and I participated in that process as well. My expectation was that the 2018 flaws would be remedied.

Instead, the 2019 draft is a huge step backward.

(You can compare the currently used standards with the 2019 draft here.)


First, key figures, events, and concepts are omitted as required content.  Socrates, Plato, Athens, Julius Caesar (or any Caesar), Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, Alexander the Great, Columbus, James Madison, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Obama, taxation without representation, constitutional amendments, constitutional conventions, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution are not required content. While some of the individuals or events are suggested as examples, the reality is that a student could attend 13 years of public schooling in Michigan and never hear of any of them. This is more likely than one might suppose, because only mandatory content can be state tested, and none of this is mandatory.

Second, the standards are imprecise, unclear, and ill-defined. There are at least 17 different terms addressing America’s democratic values and constitutional principles.  Examples include “core principles,” “core ideals,” “ideals,” “philosophical origins of Constitutional government,” “ideas about government,” “basic values and principles,” “democratic values,” and “”Constitutional principles of American government.”

Words have meaning. The civics committee I served on recommended the use of clearly defined and consistent terminology that would have been a model for the nation. We provided a coherent framework for teaching democratic values (i.e., the philosophy underlying the Declaration of Independence) and constitutional principles (i.e., the way the democratic values are expressed in the Constitution). Not that it matters, but a liberal Democrat and I spearheaded this approach together. For unfathomable reasons, this attempt has been rejected for confusion in the classroom.

Third, the standards misrepresent and minimize fundamental democratic values. They give short shrift to the right to alter or abolish an oppressive government - the linchpin of the Declaration of Independence; embrace the “social contract” - a French concept posited by Rousseau which led to the guillotine; and improperly refer to “individual rights” (which can be given and taken away by government) when unalienable rights (which we are born with and cannot be taken away by government) is the centerpiece of our liberty. 

Fourth, the standards undermine, omit and dilute the higher order thinking and inquiry-based instruction that research reveals is key to student achievement.  Hawaii, New York and other states revised their standards in just this manner, but Michigan is choosing to be left behind.

Fifth, a state mandate about the Michigan Constitution is subverted.

Sixth, the standards are biased. They highlight the progressive movement and minimize the conservative movement. A prior 2018 draft attempted to add balance by adding a few references to the conservative movement. The current draft censors many of those references, and doubles down in favor of the progressive movement.  Over 20 examples for the Progressive Era exist in one standard alone. There is no equivalency for conservatives.

Seventh, there is so much more.  I have written a line-by-line, 8,500 word critique only a few major issues are highlighted here.

Related: Read Warren’s detailed critique of standards

If Michigan desires to lead the nation in quality, historical accuracy, and critical thinking, the standards need a major improvement. Public input is being sought now, and the draft is scheduled to return to the State Board of Education in June.  

Make your voice heard. The future of our free society depends on it.

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Tue, 04/30/2019 - 8:36am

"Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad...are not required content." Right. As they shouldn't be. If you want to indoctrinate your child with your personal beliefs, do it on your own time and your own dime.

Also, what are Mr. Warren's credentials? Does he have any type of professional degree in history or education? Or is he simply a wealthy Oakland County lawyer pushing his own conservative agenda at any and all costs?

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 5:01pm

It's the Oakland Entitlement privilege. He's a wealthy white man from Oakland county therefore he knows better than the 3 pages of local, statewide and national experts listed in the proposed draft.

Dr. Henry Beckmeyer
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 8:57am

Well said. If we are to have an educated and erudite populace that is capable of making informed decisions then inclusion of ALL of the issues so noted must be included in basic K-12 education and beyond. Ignorance of vital issues should not be tolerated in a self-governing society.

leonard page
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 9:04am

it would be nice to see some of Howard Zinn's work - the people's history of the United States

Frank Koob
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 9:24am

All history is selective and therefore biased. Unfortunately my grandparents are left out of most history classes. I believe they made an important contribution to the Chicagoland area when they came over as immigrants to become truck farmers at the end of the 19th century. The movements of peoples should certainly be a historical perspective that needs to be taught. My grandparents can be left out as individuals however. They are part of my personal history and that of my family.

The one term that seems to be left out that should be included is cultural development. That happens worldwide and even the smallest of peoples and the most primitive of people's. We need to understand it as a movement in history. Part of that is religion. Religion has been a cultural and political influence in the world and the developments of people for many, many centuries. To leave out the development of religion is to avoid an important aspect of cultural and political history. Sometimes teachers avoid teaching about religion because they are afraid to because of the state, the school administration, and parent who say they do not want religion Jam down their students throats. I'm not talking about evangelization or proselytism. Why ignore something that has had such a terrific affect the development of all of the peoples in our world including our country. Maybe even atheistic movements should be mentioned as an influencer particularly in the 18th 19th and 20th Century, and even today. They certainly have created a large effect on the developments that have taken and are taking place in recent history.

David Harris
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 9:33am

I served on the Civics Committee for the recent revision of the draft social studies standards, and I am the "liberal Democrat" to whom Michael Warren alludes. During my career as a high school teacher, Oakland Schools social studies education consultant, and professor of teacher education at the University of Michigan, I studied and wrote extensively about the teaching of democratic values. Judge Warren's criticism of the mangling of them in the current revised standards is spot on. Inexplicably, the philosophically and historically sound recommendations made by the Civics Committee regarding democratic values, as described by Mr. Warren, were jettisoned. I agree with his criticism of this grievous flaw in the current draft of the social studies standards and with his other insightful criticisms. I hope that the State Board of Education will heed his advice to ensure that major improvements are made to the current draft of the social studies standards.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 10:00am

Moses is no more real than Superman - should we teach our children the history of Krypton as well?

Mrs. M
Sat, 05/04/2019 - 6:39pm

Sorry you're so uneducated that you believe this.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 10:11am

Republicans do hate educated people,, for educated people will not vote republican!!!

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 6:36am

Wow don, way to be stereotypical. How about a well thought out counter argument instead of a shallow sophomoric response. That may show your education in a more positive light.

Mrs. M
Sat, 05/04/2019 - 6:37pm

I do believe you have that very wrong. It's the Democrats that are keeping people uneducated! Keeping them oppressed playing the victim!

Michael Montgomery
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 10:22am

The full Warren critique (the 8,000+ word piece linked to the BRIDGE article) is a thoughtful one and quite different from some of the other criticism coming from the right. It stands in marked contrast, for example, to the Colbeck position that seemed aimed at elevating the anti-majoritarian aspects of our system of government over the democratic elements.

As someone who has taught this stuff (to undergrad and grad students) and worked in state, local, and federal government, however, I still have both practical and more fundamental concerns about the Warren position.

My practical concern is that - were we to go in the direction Warren suggests -- we would have a better-constructed body of knowledge to put in front of students but also one that is likely to be both too content-rich and too complex for students at the levels where some of his added - or restored - material appears.

My more fundamental concern is where Warren is coming from regarding the western religious, cultural, and political tradition. On this issue, however, I am also unhappy with the 2019 standards themselves.

At some level, the Judge is probably right -- the 2019 standards probably do go too far in the direction of downplaying the importance of the old DWM in the development of our values and system of government. At the same time, Warren's reinsertion of them is pretty ham-handed and doesn't leave much room for those who've lived on the rest of the planet these last 2,500 or so years.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 12:16pm

The new standards. ,IMHO, have re-introduced civics , which trumps need for comparative religion which is better suited for college aged students.

Joel Batterman
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 11:52am

Judge Warren needs to read up on the history of the Progressive Era. He seems to think that the reformers of the "Progressive Era" and today's "progressive" activists of 2019 are the same thing, and that talking about the "Progressive Era" is an example of "bias."

In fact, "Progressive Era" reformers were a complex and multi-faceted group, many of whom held beliefs that today would be characterized as politically "conservative." Some advocated the prohibition of alcohol; others advocated for restrictions on immigration. However, some of those same reformers also advocated for causes that we might consider "liberal," such as voting rights for women and regulations on big business.
There has been an enduring debate among historians about how to understand Progressive Era reform. Was it fundamentally "conservative," in that it accepted the rise of corporate economic power (albeit with some level of regulation), or was it "liberal," in the sense that it paved the way for the more sweeping reforms of the New Deal era?

These are the questions we need to be asking, not whether curricula is biased because the word "progressive" appears. Judge Warren's confusion on this topic is a good example of why history needs to be understood on its own terms, and not simply through the lens of present-day political categories. I'm hopeful that the new proposed standards will further that goal.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 11:58am

If we don't teach our children about Judaism, Christianity, Buddism, and Islam, how do we teach them to get along with their fellow man and see the places we are alike instead of tearing us apart. A better understanding of our history, civics, and the principles of the founding fathers would make more informed voters.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 1:10pm

When has the teaching of religion ever resulted in humans getting along with each other?

john chastain
Sun, 05/05/2019 - 10:29am

Religion plays a significant role in society past and present. Ignoring it is a disservice too both. I’m not talking about the nonsense of teaching conservative Christian biblical literalism or advocating for religion or against it. I’m talking about teaching how the interplay of religion and our society affects our lives. One example is how American Christianity played a role in both justifying slavery and opposition to it. Religion is just another form of humanities desire to understand the world around them and their place in it. That its a flawed process shouldn’t be surprising but blaming religion alone is to ignore the underlying cause and effect. Humanity is a complex social organization and religion is only one aspect of how we interact and interpret existence.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 1:02pm

So, you want to include figures of fantasy in your "history"
Negated your complete 8500 word effort

Cadence Morton
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 4:04pm

It's illegal to wear the United States flag as an article of clothing. Your argument is invalid.

Jim tomlinson
Sat, 05/11/2019 - 1:45pm

The tie disrespects the flag. When has conservative politics or dogma ever served the public , writ large? Its antithetical.

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 5:08pm

I very much appreciate having a political opinion and speaking up for it. Unfortunately it appears the Judge isn't letting facts get in the way of his opinion:

He says" First on key figures, events, and concepts are omitted as required content. Socrates, Plato, Athens, Julius Caesar (or any Caesar), Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, Alexander the Great, Columbus, James Madison, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Obama, taxation without representation, constitutional amendments, constitutional conventions, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution are not required content.

How does someone teach about the ancient world without Socrates, Plato, or Athens coming up once or twice? Translation: I'm a judge, therefore teachers are dumb.

How does someone teach the required religion standards without Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammad coming up? Translation: I'm a judge, therefore teachers are dumb. Also I didn't care about Mohammad not being in the standards before now but it makes my point look less concerned about the only religion I truly care about.

I see Columbus, taxation without representation and Madison all unavoidable as a topic in 5th grade (Madison again in Civics) I see standards on world revolutions in HS World. This also leads into some of the political thinkers listed above. Has he looked at these standards?

Tue, 04/30/2019 - 5:32pm

And here is no better example of why state-controlled education should be eliminated. No matter what is taught, short of mathematics (maybe?) it will piss off some parents. (Yes, and Howard Zin is a BS lunatic!!). Find a school you want to send your kids to and quit bitching about where someone sends their kid.

John Q. Public
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 6:00pm

Robert Moses' works are educational and entertaining, but I hardly see him as an author of such stature that he should be required fodder for a social studies curriculum.

Prof Ken in Zee...
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 7:40pm

Many fine comments in this stream. However, no one mentions that although the Judge laments the loss of the traditional duty of social studies instruction, teaching critical thinking skills, the neither the proposed social studies standards nor the judge offer a solution. Critical thinking skills cannot be effectively evaluated on an objective reference test [which the current state social studies tests are]. Therefore critical thinking skills are not part of the social studies standards, and anything not included in these standards is not taught. Why? Social studies teachers, as are Michigan teachers in all disciplines, have their evaluations and, if the Republicans have their way, their salaries and jobs tied to how well their students perform on the state's tests. Having taught social studies in the "real" [not charter] public schools of Michigan for 37 years I witnessed the shift from effective teaching of critical thinking, the core democratic values, and other things that a citizen of a free state must know if that state will survive to teaching the state's tests. Michigan Public Schools record of excellence has decline from always being in the top ten in the nation to only being better than the perennial poorest state school system in the nation, Mississippi. This reliance on standards set by the state, high stakes testing, demonizing teachers, refusal to let teacher salaries keep up with inflation, under funding of real public schools while being over generous with state funded private school systems [charters] has nearly destroyed Michigan's Public Schools.

I served on earlier panels that wrote earlier state social studies standards, but found that as a k-12 educator [even though I hold a Masters in History and a Masters of Educational Leadership] my opinions and suggestions were at best ignored and at worse labeled as being without merit. I'm sure the same thing is going on as the state standards are being revised. The last person our governmental leaders or the "Doctors of Education" in our elite universities will ever listen to is the people who actually teach these standards to our children. Until our elected officials and other elite leaders listen to the people who actually do the job every day, year after year; these standards will only be meaningful on the state test days. We will turn out more and more citizens who will believe whatever big lie our political leaders put out each day and the our great nation will continue toward its "Decline and Fall". We must return to actually teaching critical thinking skills and stressing that a strong nation has moral leaders. It is time that we Make America Moral Again.

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 05/05/2019 - 10:25am

I believe teachers can teach critical thinking despite the standards. History is a story, someone's story, so as long as people think of history as a set of facts to be tested, there will people upset about what is taught. Teachers understand that.

Heather Urbaniak
Wed, 05/01/2019 - 8:14am

I read the majority (my son needed attention at pg. 145) of the standards yesterday. I agree with all the points stated in this article and would add my concern to the list above. The use of photographs, journals, etcetera is for the most part removed from the standards for elementary grades. These resources are what draw in a child and connect them to the past, helping the child to understand the context of situations. These connections not only help one learn, but empower the children to act bravely in the present and to draw on historical patriots to stand up for right as adults. History without context is a pretty ugly story. History without connection to people will not be remembered, change behavior or inspire heroes.

middle of the mit
Fri, 05/03/2019 - 8:31pm

"First, key figures, events, and concepts are omitted as required content. Socrates, Plato, Athens, Julius Caesar (or any Caesar), Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, Alexander the Great, Columbus, James Madison, Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Obama, taxation without representation, constitutional amendments, constitutional conventions, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution are not required content. "

First, you submit so many people in the above paragraph that you have people from totally different paradigms.

So, I am left with this..Jesus.

Do you know what Jesus set HIS Church to be set up as?

"Go, sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor and then come, and follow me"

If that is not enough for you go to Acts chapter 2 vs 34 or Acts chapter 4 vs 38

Take them in context then come back on this board and tell me you want to put Christ BACK INTO GOVERNMENT.

Then I might listen.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 8:50am

I'm okay with anything other than religion being in a social studies curriculum. There are too many different versions. If you can't pray in school, you certainly shouldn't be teaching it or referencing anything about it.