It’s conservatives’ turn to complain about Michigan social studies standards

Conservatives like State Board of Education member Tom McMillin and Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren aren’t happy with newest draft of social studies standards, saying the standards are “far left.”

Michigan’s proposed social studies standards continued to raise controversy Tuesday, with a conservative member of the State Board of Education and a long-serving judge alleging liberal bias in the latest draft.

It is quite a reversal from a year ago, when Democrats on the board had raised concerns about a previous draft that stripped references to climate change, gay rights and “democratic” from the phrase “core democratic values” in the standards used to guide the teaching of history and civics in Michigan classrooms.

An uproar over that earlier draft, which had been influenced by a group of well-known conservatives including then-state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, led to the rewriting of the standards.

The latest draft, which returned references to climate change, gay rights, Harriet Tubman, Roe v. Wade and “core democratic values” was presented to the State Board of Education Tuesday. The proposed standards passed its first hurdle at the meeting, when the Democratic-majority board rejected an effort to send the draft back for more work by a 6-2 vote, along party lines.

Republican board member Tom McMillin was not happy with the draft. “When I look at the things (changed between drafts) … after hundreds of hours of debate, is mind-numbing,” McMillin said.

“It is important we get social studies right. And you’re starting out way left,” McMillin continued. “Conservatives and constitutionalists are saying this is flawed. If you want to continue to have students leaving the public schools because of bias, this is what we risk when we put out something that is extremely biased and problematic.”

You can compare the 2018 draft with the current draft here.

State Deputy Superintendent Venessa Keesler said the latest draft removes political influences from the standards.  “Standards are not about politics,” Keesler told the board Tuesday. “MDE’s commitment is that (politics) is not what this is about.”

Standards do not spell out what is taught in individual classrooms, but are guidelines for subject areas that should be covered in different grade levels. Still, standards have been a political flashpoint in Michigan over the past year following Bridge Magazine’s coverage of the issue, to the point of recently garnering national attention.

Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren, a former Republican member of the State Board of Education, was among a group of conservatives who wielded influence over the conservative-leaning 2018 social studies draft. Warren wrote a 45-page, line-by-line critique of the new draft, and sent it along with an 11-page memo to the interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles.

In his memo, Warren complains that the currently proposed standards include two references to suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, but no references to the biblical figure Abraham, “perhaps the most important person in human history.”

Warren argues the current draft highlights “the progressive movement and censoring the conservative movement.”

People can offer their views on the standards at nine upcoming public meetings around the state (locations to be announced soon), and, in the near future, online through the Michigan Department of Education website.

The education department is now in its fifth year developing new social studies standards, with more than 30,000 hours of work by department officials and volunteers who have served on task forces.

Education department officials say they hope to return to the State Board in June for final approval of the standards.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/09/2019 - 5:48pm

Revisionist history (and Civics) in Michigan's Schools...what can possibly go wrong?

North Woods
Tue, 04/09/2019 - 6:59pm

Republican board member Tom McMillan states, "Conservatives and constitutionalists are saying this is flawed."

"Constitutionalists" is a dogwhistle to the progeny of the Confederacy. The very opposite of those who actually support the Constitution as currently amended.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 04/10/2019 - 6:11am

Labeling Constitutionalists as democrats?

Whom do you think gave us Jim Crow or the KKK?

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 9:37am

Yes, the first KKK was the Southern Democrat's armed resistance against Reconstruction. We all know that. We also know that party stances on race have shifted drastically since 1867, and that you'd be hard pressed to find a Klansman that voted D in 2018.

Jim tomlinson
Wed, 04/10/2019 - 1:27pm

Stop. Everyone knows the kkk and racists dixie crats migrated from the dem party to repub party when civil rights legislation passed in the 60’s . Colbeck used to sell the same drivel in public. And he fancied himself as some sort of intellectual power house (he was not). He constantly reminded anyone who cared that he was rocket scientist. So glad he’s gone

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 1:01pm

How can you possibly say this? You need to explain this.

Steve H.
Tue, 04/09/2019 - 10:50pm

"proposed standards include two references to suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, but no references to the biblical figure Abraham,"

Hmm. The first being a historical figure, and the second being something of a religious/historical figure. So I guess we are supposed to include biblical teachings in social studies now? Nothing wrong with the bible I guess, especially if it's your religion of choice. But, I'm not sure it should be taught in public schools.

Jim V
Wed, 04/10/2019 - 12:59pm

Unless they're teaching a comparative religions course, where all religions of the world are treated equally, then placing Abraham in a social studies curriculum is completely absurd. Keep the bible-toting zealots out of public classrooms, unless you're going to give everyone equal time.

Moe Howard
Wed, 04/10/2019 - 3:30am

How is Abraham is most important person in the history of humanity? By the standards of this judge shouldn't it be Adam, because without him there wouldn't have been an Abraham.

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 8:01am

I can see why the Republicans are honked off, The Democrats inserted "Democratic "values instead of democratic values. I didn't read beyond that because it is all such a waste of time.

Walt Duro
Wed, 04/10/2019 - 8:28am

Once again, Central Planners win by keeping public attention on the content of State Standards rather than having a discussion on the existence of State Standards. Democrats, by nature, are Central Planners. Socialists all. Establishment Republicans are Central Planners too. Despite his characterization by the mainstream media as "far right wing", Patrick Colbeck is a Central Planner vis-à-vis the Education Sector of the Economy. As a State Senator, he was handed the opportunity by constituents to begin the process of kicking the Federal Government out of local public schools. He first bailed on Real Conservatives, then threw them under a school bus. Rather than kicking the Federal (and State) Government out of local schools, Colbeck choose to focus on words & phrases in the Social Studies State Standards. Tom McMillin is no Establishment Republican. Neither is Nikki Snyder. With a 6-2 majority on the State Board of Education, Democrats can have their way. Real Republicans may be better off taking an existential view of Common Core State Standards. Endlessly arguing "Democracy" vs "Constitutionally Limited Republic" keeps Central Planners in power, Taxpayers and Parents powerless. #StopCommonCore

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 9:40am

Actual socialist here who wishes the Democrats weren't a center-right party: Every time you call mealy-mouth centrism and basic government services 'socialism', you normalize that term to the benefit of actual socialists. So thanks for that.

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 10:11am

Also, on a comment section populated by the likes of Kevin, Matt, and duane, you've managed to out-crazy of all them with this babble

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 7:23pm

Yah but someone has to balance off you, Bernadette, Rick Jim and others. But we'd wish you when you try to say something intelligent instead of just being snotty..

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 9:19am

That's rich, coming from the guy still peddling libertarianism in 2019. You'll get civility when you advocate a more ethical approach to government than 'f*ck the poor'

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 8:58am

"but no references to the biblical figure Abraham, “perhaps the most important person in human history.” This clown cannot be serious...Gandalf is obviously the most important person in human history. That being said, I will give him points for that bow tie in his photo. Very liberal/progressive of him, actually.

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 9:40am

One has to wonder why a group with little educational training is taking on a job that should be assigned to those with educational training, the teachers and principals themselves. Next will the State Board of Education be dictating what should be taught to the engineers and architects that design bridges and buildings?

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 11:25am

As a teacher, this is the most worthwhile comment in this thread. There are plenty of very intelligent, learned individuals in both k-12 and higher ed who would do a phenomenal job with this task. That being said, not including "Abraham" whose existence is not verifiable and whose influence is only clearly shown through religious texts sets the tone for the outrage here. I can appreciate why parents want their children to have a solid religious education, but that's their job or their religious institution's job and not the public school's job. If one wants to teach about Abraham, he or she must also teach about Mohammed, which I would imagine is not something these individuals would want.

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 5:19am

Pretty sad when the concept of teaching historical facts instead of politicized or sectarian religious propaganda in History is considered a liberal plot. But these days, I guess the very concept of education itself is considered that by far too many radical "conservatives."

Al Churchill
Fri, 04/12/2019 - 5:48pm

Having read a good portion of the old and new curriculum standards, perhaps a comment or two are appropriate. Firstly, the team that wrote the new standards provided needed clarity when they rewrote an awful lot of the old standards but kept the meaning intact. Secondly, as an earlier commenter has indicated, the new standards, when referring to democratic values, use upper case D and V. That's hard to explain, given that 4th grade grammer would require lower case letters. Thirdly, a major, major, major omission!
Whenever the content of the United States Constitution is required to be addressed in the 2019 curriculum, the enumerated powers of the federal government are, rightly, registered as appropriate. Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall and a unanimous origionalist decision by the Supreme Court that decided McCullough vs. Maryland in 1816,

supported "implied powers" embedded in the text of the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 grants to Congress the power, "To make all laws whch shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, (enumerated) and all ot6her Powersvestedby this Constitution in the Government of the United States, orin any Department or Officer Thereof."
Going back a bit, both Benjamin Franklin and John Dickerson had inserted in the Articles of Confederation an intention to institute the "mutual general welfare" as a purpose of that compact. In 1816, Hamilton pointed to the "general welfare" clause, the Commerce clause and the "necessary and proper" clause as justification of a United States Bank. There was disagreement.
Both Madison and Jefferson took a "strict constructionist stance, opposing Hamilton's position. Madison subsequently, changed his mind and concurred with Hamilton, George Washington's Secretary of the Treasury' and Washington himself, who instructed Hamilton to create a United States Bank. We might add John Marshall and the unaminous Supreme Court decision that that made a "broad" understanding of the Constitution lawful.
To omit the " implied powers" of the Constitution in the curriculum standards, while featuring the "enumerated powers" leaves much to be desired in terms of scholarship and leaves, I'm sorry to say, the curriculum committee open to the possibility of political tinkering. I hope not. That being said, change is not only an option, it is an absolute.

Barry Visel
Tue, 04/16/2019 - 1:58pm

I don’t believe the phrase “implied powers” is in the Constitution, rather it’s kind of like fake news, something made up to justify questionable actions. Federalist Paper 41 explains the “general welfare” clause as an introductory phrase leading to the “enumerated powers” that “We the People” actually granted to the Federal government. Article 5 is in the Constitution to provide for amendments as “We the People” from time to time feel are necessary. There is nothing “implied” in Article 5. It’s pretty straightforward if you just read the words.

Al Churchill
Sat, 04/20/2019 - 2:43am

Barry This writer is surprised that you brought forth the Federalist Paper 41 to bolster support for your narrow reading of the "general welfare" clause. Further, I am just as surprised that you are , not only unfamiliar with the term "implied power", but think the term similar to "fake news".
The term has had common use for as long as I can remember. It embraces Congressional power embellishing the "expressed power" of the "enumerated powers" and is justified by the "necessary and proper" clause. Those interested in law and the Constitution, have also historically referred to the the term as an "elastic clause".
On the other hand, the Federalist Papers and #41 in particular, need to be put in context. Pretty well limited in circulation to the state of New York, where ratification of the Constitution was at issue, it was a partisan political set of essays, subjective and not necessarily reflective of a national majority opinion. Indeed, it may not have even reflected a majority opinion among the three writers of the Federalist Papers. #41 was, however, integral to the debate related to Constitution interpretation, whether America's premiere legal document should be understood in broad or narrow terms. Favoring a narrow reading, Madison's #41 was support for that view. Hamilton, a second writer of the Federalist Papers, countered Madison with a diametrically opposite, broad, view. Hamilton pointed to the "implied power" written into the Constitution through the "necssary and proper" clause as legal justification.
George Washington and the first American Congress chose Hamilton's broad reading of the Constitution to establish the First Bank of the United States, an act that was prohibited in Madison's narrow opinion.
Including the Supreme Court landmark decision in McCollough v. Maryland with few interuptions, the courts have validated Hamilton's vision. There is an overwhelming amount of case law that does so as well.
There is nothing "fake" about the Constitution's "implied powers". They have been central to American jurisprudence since 1787.

Prof Ken Zeeland
Sun, 06/16/2019 - 8:40pm

There is a Federal law against using the flag as clothing, or in any way other than a flag. This lLIBERAL is offended by that Republican politician wearing our flag as a bow tie! Why hasn’t he been arrested? If I wore that tie in a picture our Ottawa County “Patriots” would be demanding my arrest, writing letters to all the news media in Michigan demanding my arrest, but they don’t say a thing about this law breaker!