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.