A final meeting, and Michigan’s social studies standards head for a rewrite

About 30 people in Mount Pleasant attended the last of 18 public forums about controversial proposed social studies standards. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

March 2019: Gay rights and climate change are back in Michigan social studies standards

Mount Pleasant - The Michigan Department of Education has heard thousands of complaints about proposed changes to state social studies standards that would delete references to gay rights, Roe v. Wade and climate change.

Now, comes the hard part: rewriting the standards to try to satisfy everyone.

Thursday evening’s forum in an auditorium in Central Michigan University’s student union was the 18th and last currently scheduled session to gather public input on the controversial changes to standards meant to set the parameters for what is taught in Michigan classrooms.  

Over five months, about 800 people attended sessions, and another 4,000 left online comments for the Michigan Department of Education.

Concerns about the conservative changes were consistent over time and across the state, and are likely to have a major impact on how the draft standards are rewritten, said Linda Forward, senior executive policy advisor for the state’s education department.

“I’m embarrassed,” said Anthony Tuf Francis, an Oakland University assistant professor who typified the public comments Thursday. “These standards need to be rejected and rewritten by people who appreciate democracy.”

Bridge Magazine first revealed the proposed revisions in June, advanced by conservative newcomers to a focus group discussing revisions. The proposals  quickly garnered national attention.

Central Michigan University senior Clare Alderman didn’t mince words when blasting “weak-kneed men who think that words in a text book threaten their sense of power.” (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Public input was initially set to conclude June 30, but public outcry about the changes led the Department of Education to extend public input until Sept. 30, adding six more public forums around the state to the dozen that were originally scheduled.

Michigan’s social studies standards were last changed in 2007. The education department has been working to revise them for four years. The standards were initially revised by a 14-member team of educators and subject experts. Over the past year, however, 21 people representing diverse racial and ethnic groups as well as more educators tweaked those standards.

That last group was influenced by the input of four well-known conservatives and Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton. No Democratic activists or politicians were included.

In an interview this summer, Colbeck said his suggestions were motivated by concern that some standards are not politically neutral or factually accurate, and to ensure students are exposed to multiple points of view. As an example of how a social issue can have two perspectives, he said the Supreme Court wedding cake case, largely framed as a same-sex marriage issue, also raises questions about the baker’s religious freedoms under the constitution.

Critics of the revisions said they feared that politics were being slipped into what Michigan students must study in kindergarten through high school.

One change to the standards that Colbeck told Bridge he was responsible for and which has caused public outcry at forums was the removal of the word “democratic” from the phrase “core democratic values.

“‘(C)ore democratic values’ (is) not politically neutral,” Colbeck told Bridge. “I'm not proposing core republican values, either.’”

CMU senior Clare Alderman spoke out against banishing the word democratic from textbooks. Deletion of the word “inserts political biases” of “weak-kneed men who think that words in a textbook threaten their sense of power,” Alderman said.

“I’m embarrassed” about the proposed changes, said Oakland University assistant professor Anthony Tuf  Francis. (Bridge photo by Ron French)

Oakland University’s Francis had a similar complaint: “We’ve removed the phrase ‘the common good,’” he said. “How is that OK?”

Aja Philpot, a CMU graduate student who lives in Midland, blasted the proposed standards for decreasing references to the KKK. “Let’s not forget who we are just to change who we are,” Philpot said.

While the public forums are over, online comments will be accepted through Sept. 30. After that, education department officials will evaluate the thousands of comments the department has received in person and online, and determine whether they will tweak the proposed standards. Part of that process will include the formation of more public task forces - the department will be seeking volunteers this fall.

Any revisions must be approved by the eight-member State Board of Education. In June, Democrats on the board, which is evenly split between Democratic and Republican members, said they would not approve the conservative-driven revisions. Assuming the board remains split, a 4-4 tie would keep the social studies standards as they are.

When the rewrite is completed, a final draft of the standards will be presented to the board for approval. That will likely happen early next year, Forward said.

And before any final approval, there likely will be another round of public forums in 2019.

“I’ve been delighted the turnout and the passion at all the meetings,” Forward said.

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Doug Degriselles
Fri, 09/21/2018 - 9:15am

History is history, you cant just rewrite it to fit your needs, we gad slavery, we have communism, we have kkk this us what makes us great not the text book, teach lifes up and downs

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 10:01am

I notice you find nothing positive in our history to think should be included, that seems to reflect what has been reported on Bridge about this topic.
The reality is that if all you talk about is what is/was wrong and never what was/is succeeding that you will forget success and only see failure.
Aside from watching the 'sins' of few in our history to become weaponized into the politics of today what do those topics as stand allow lessons offer us for the future. Does the current lessons talk about how people a hundred years ago were accused of KKK membership and that destroyed the, don't we see same tactic being used today? As for slavery, is it taught that slavery predated the arrival of the Europeans on the North American continent, does it include that the creation of this Country build the foundation of the ending of legalized slavery [since it seems there is illegal 'human trafficking' crossing our boarders today]. As for communism, where do we have it, where is it practice in the world and it is not simply a tool of dictators? At best it is one unsuccessful approach to economics, and it is one excuse for political power that was used to kill millions of people.
It seems there is only so much time in the classroom and how we use it is imperative for the ever growing importance of learning. If anything the reporting seems to focus exclusively on the politicization and not the learning. None of what I have read in Bridge about the topic or the hearings has mentioned anything about the students, the process of learning, about the constraints of the classroom [time and topic, the whole of building student learning]. I wonder what Mr. French would have heard if he returned to the students he interview in his Walled Lake district merger and ask them about the social studies.
These hearing seem to be feed the politicization of Michigan using Michigan education.

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 8:34am

Most European nations including Britain which brought slavery to the USA not only got rid of slavery before the USA, but they also didn't have the many anti black laws with the conclusion of slavery. So I'm extremely curious what you meant by "does it include that the creation of this Country build the foundation of the ending of legalized slavery" I wouldn't say that America has no good history to report. Especially in terms of business it created the business society of the world today allowing for international trade at unprecedented levels because countries can trade with the companies that are from their nations. Yet in terms of how blacks were treated and still are treated it's obvious in my eyes that the USA needs to recognize that.

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 11:29am

Are you denying that 'Native Americans' weren’t enslaving members of other tribes before the 'Europeans' arrived? Are sure the Europeans, the Asian, the Africans, the indigenous populations in South America or the Middle East weren’t enslaving their peers/lessers in their respective regions? You feed the stereotyping if you ignore the whole of slavery.
Are you suggesting there is no legal recourse for ‘blacks’ in Michigan against systematic ethnic prejudice? Are you telling me that ethnicity is preventing learning, acquiring knowledge and skills, achieving financial success? There are too many exceptions to justify such stereotyping; especially in this knowledge driven world where what a person knows and applies is rising.
I know prejudice exists, it is a human weakness that each person must decide whether to do or not. Today what laws and government practices are designed to isolate and prevent people in any group from succeeding or at least having the opportunity to improve their situation? If there is a difference in government's treatment of 'blacks', I would say it is due to LBJs 'War on Poverty' for it facilitated the breakup of the family unit in urban America. Even US Senator Patrick Moynihan warned of this before the 'War on Poverty' was passed. How is what you see as disappointing treatment of 'blacks' different than how the Irish were treated when they came to America and how they allowed their ‘Irish’ politicians to claim working government for their ethnic constituents delayed their simulation into America, read Malcom Gladwell's and Thomas Sowell’s work.
By ignoring personal successes the impression is created that success is out of the grasp of children/people today simply because of ethnicity. Have you considered the impact of the micro culture a child surrounds themselves with and how it influences what they do so much more than laws or programs? Have you considered that if the friends encourage or discourage academic success that the individual will follow? You seem to ignore that learning is the strongest tool for breaking prejudices? Do you think a student excels because of who they are or because of what they do? Are you sure there are only ‘good’ teachers in ‘wealthy’ districts and ‘poor’ in ‘poor’ districts?
Have you considered that stereotyping is simply shorthand for a lazy mind which reinforces the stereotype and avoids reality? If you want to change people's lives to success, stop relying on stereotyping lowering the expectations of the kids and begin showing them the successes and they were achieved. As long as students hear that there is no hope because of who they are they will not try.
I know there are individual biases and prejudices; I have dealt with them regularly in my life. But it isn't driven by events over a hundred years ago, it is driven by people today, by people for political and personal gain, by people who are too lazy to think for themselves, for social acceptance. Learn from history, it is assimilation not isolation that facilitates success.

Ben W Washburn
Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:04pm

It is probably not wise to make any comment here, when I have not actually read what has been proposed and understand the issue in full context. But, neither has probably anyone else who is making comments on this article. So here goes anyhow.
I would suggest the phrase "Core American values regarding the common good" best fits what needs to be said, and these are certainly highly conflicted and debatable values.

Let me recount my personal introduction to this issue, way back in 1953, when I was just a 17-year old small country high school senior. The Kentucky Chapter of the American Legion held a public speaking contest for high school seniors regarding "American values". The speech had to be both written and oral. It had to last exactly 12 minutes. Points were deducted for each second that you ran short or over the 12-minute target. Points were also deducted for every word by which you deviated from your written text. I made the State finals with my speech. On the day of my performance, I hit the 12-minute mark dead on, and didn't miss a single word. The 3-judge panel was obviously impressed. Then, one of them, Mark Etheridge, the long-time editor of the Louisville Courier Journal, asked me: Mr. Washburn, can you give me one concrete example of those American values that you have just been talking about preserving? I was floored. I had no clue as to what he was asking. Neither, fortunately for me that day, did either of the other 2 judges, and I still won second place in that contest. But, his question forever woke me up and started a process of becoming more and more self-aware of who I thought I was. It was a seminal and memorable moment in my life. That, in a nutshell, is what a social studies curriculum, within the classical Renaissance model, ought to be all about. Social studies should not be about brain-washing the next generation in what they should believe.

Note: I was amazed, when I first came to Detroit in 1962 that Mark Etheridge's son, was the editor of the Detroit Free Press.

Jim Ross
Sun, 09/23/2018 - 8:27am


Brian Pavey
Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:25pm

I am glad I retired but more than angry over the moves that have been historically made by the political right wing. I was lucky to be able to teach students to think and not be a robot selecting images to prove my humanness. The history of the United States is fraught with the "Dark Side" but it is the Constitution and the people that compel change for the better. The people who make these standards forget that this "Democracy" is an experiment and that the foundation of this Republic is a living breathing Constitution. Just in case they need to be reminded it is a Republic and not a dictatorship. (Hint: That means the views of all the people need to be represented and no minority denied their view by a majority).

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 1:28pm

Does that mean the majority is to be suborned by any and every 'minority' view? Is the time in the classroom finite or is it unlimited? Is it better to teach students the importance of putting events and situation in the context of their time and place than trying to judge everything on the wants of the person today? Is the lesson importance of the foundation of principles the country was built on, those ideals and methods that allow for each of the issues to be resolved generations after the country was formed? Is teaching people to think only about events and not about developing the principles guiding their thinking?
There is a whole that these are only pieces of and not the pieces being greater than the whole simply because a select minority says so. What I have read [using the link Bridge provided in an early article] suggested that the issues such as slavery and such were not mandated, it doesn't say they cannot or should not be included in the teaching. This has become like everything else with education and other social issues is about the politics and not the results.
As for not being a dictatorship vs a democracy, it seems the political tactics of attacking people with innuendo and unproven charges are the methods of those [whether it be an individual or a minority] trying to create an ideological dictatorship. If 'core curriculum' is a topic for discussion than why are personal labelling so prominent in the reporting and comments, why are we hearing question or comments about how and why these should be primary topics in the limited time teachers have with students? You talk so self assured about what the political 'right wing' is making of history as if there is no political 'left wing' so they are doing nothing to the educational curriculum.

If this is about student learning that there should at least be some mention of how these issue need to be required in the classroom and not left to the teacher's application in their lesson plans [it seems the proposed change gives such choice to the teachers].

You seem to know what the political 'right wing' is trying to make of history, can be

Kevin Grand
Fri, 09/21/2018 - 2:23pm

"That last group was influenced by the input of four well-known conservatives and Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton. No Democratic activists or politicians were included."

Why did those four democrats on the Michigan BoE NOT bother mentioning this to their fellow democrats until the end?

It wouldn't happen to have anything to do with an agenda that wasn't going through as quietly and smoothly as they originally hoped?

Nice try, Mr. French.

Fri, 09/21/2018 - 8:02pm

To Ignore the Past Means We Are Likely To Repeat It !!!

Sat, 09/22/2018 - 9:48am

"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." George Santayana
Learning is not simply stating, it is not simply condemning, it is not simply using as cudgel to politically beat people about the 'head and shoulders'.
Learning from history is investigating the events, how they happened what happen, why they happened what their impact was, what was done to prevent them from happening /encourage them to happen, and to see how those lessons might apply today.
Use the example of slavery, how is it realvent to the present day, it has been illegal for over 150 years, anyone caught holding someone against their will is procescuted to the full extend of the law, aside from sports millionaire claiming their contracts are 'slavery' and politicians berating others where is there slavery in America, or the human traffickers bring young people across the boarder or ensaring them on the street in our community for illegal purposes, how many of the over 300 million law abiding American citizen have to confront slavery in their lifetime? Slavery in and of it self and especially the individuals are better used as a proof of how our over 200 year old Constritution has worked to offer liberty to the world. Better to require teaching the Constitution and how it has worked since the beginning and applies to each of us today than to force time on slavery in its place. Why is more useful to someone today, hearing about events that ended over 150 years ago [where untold 10s of thousands not enslaved died to end it] or to hear about how what was designed to protect them today has been used for over 200 years to protect others and has been the foundation of the longest lasting, the most bountiful, the most creative, the one with the most opportunities, and he most envied country in the world.

It is about learning from, not simply hearing about history. It is about learning how to apply those lessons, not about simply using events from past generations to condemn and demean political opponents of today.

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 9:28am

I would agree all history needs to be placed in the context of the historical time it happened, but it does not end there. I find many of you who comment here are still working from the "mechanistic", "siloed" perspective. Learning from this means continuing the exploration of what happened next, and next, and next and to continue to correct ourselves when we have not lived up to our democratic values. I find there is little understanding of the current "structural racism" that was created over time, so a "few" could maintain their power and status. This is "old thinking", not critical thinking. Follow the money.

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 10:33pm

I may disagree with you, to prevent my making assumptions about what you are saying please describe the 'siloed of perspective', describe the 'democratic values', give a few examples of 'structural racism'. My concern is that you are stereotyping commenters and are presuming their limited education from reading to living to thoughtful conversations. The other consideration is that democracy is about a system that facilitates the systemic adjustments, it is not about correcting individuals since it is the differences of the individuals that ensures that democracy survives and society prospers.

Sun, 09/23/2018 - 10:55am

Social "Sciences" have and will always been a area of indoctrination, interpretation and mischief making reflecting the "thinking" of a generally left wing constituency, the education establishment. Since they clearly have enough on their plates teaching reading, writing, science and math, and there are plenty of outlets for students to explore these areas on their own, let's all agree to dump them. Somehow I don't think this is what is really at issue nor will be agreed to.

Tue, 09/25/2018 - 3:56pm

History is the accumulation of accurate accounts of events that took place in the past. It must be factual. Anything but that puts a country in the same company as dictatorships around the world (for example, North Korea). Facts are facts and history is history. No one gets to pass off "alternative facts" as actual history. Not liking or believing the facts does not change the fact that "they are the facts."