Five years in, Michigan passes social studies standards as conservatives fume

The state Board of Education passed state social studies standards on Tuesday, a process that took five years and produced shifting controversies


After five years of political turmoil and some unwanted national media attention, Michigan has new social studies standards.

They were controversial to the end, with dozens of Michigan conservatives pleading with the State Board of Education to reject the standards – a year after liberals complained about a previous draft.

A 2018 draft of the standards that guide history and social studies lessons in public classrooms eliminated references to climate change and gay rights, and cut “democratic” from the phrase “core democratic values,” at the behest of a group of conservatives who helped draft an earlier version of the standards.

Those deletions are reversed in the draft approved Tuesday by the Michigan State Board of Education, with the board’s six Democratic members voting yes and two Republican members voting no.

The standards likely won’t be implemented in Michigan classrooms until the 2020-21 school year, Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles said.

That proved little comfort to the board’s two dissenters.

“It’s clear these (standards) are biased to the left,” said Tom McMillin, R-Oakland Township. “The result is not what everyone at this table wants - it’s going to (result in) less support for public education, more people pulling their kids out (of schools).”

Nikki Snyder, R-Dexter, said the standards “perpetuate distrust” between the public and state school leaders because conservatives’ views are not reflected in the final version.

Some parents who spoke at the board meeting Tuesday said the standards were biased against Christians, with several telling the board they were unhappy with references to gay rights.

Tiffany Tilley, an African-American Democratic board member from Southfield, rejected that criticism.  

“All I’m hearing is that we should exclude some of the things that make America great,” Tilley said. “My people were excluded from history for a long time. People have been saying we’re pushing a gay agenda. No, we just want to stop excluding people.”

Standards are state guidelines for what topics are to be taught in a given subject at each grade level, and are periodically updated. Specific curriculum (i.e., how topics are covered, which textbooks are used, etc.) is generally set at the local level.

A public uproar followed a 2018 Bridge article detailing conservative-tinged changes to an earlier draft. The education department held 18 public meetings around the state in 2018 in which the vast majority of comments, according to education department officials at the time, were critical of proposed revisions, which critics said were politically motivated.

A new draft was presented to the board in April that reversed many of the 2018 changes, leading to a backlash from conservatives. Several dozen spoke to the board Tuesday, urging them to vote no on the standards.

One parent called the standards a “political document” presenting “our nation as nothing more than one among many.”

Many were upset that there are references to the United States being a democracy, rather than a constitutional republic. The standards have 14 references to democracy and 12 to republic.

Janice Daniels, a former mayor of Troy who was recalled after several controversies including saying homosexuality was a mental illness, spoke against the standards. She said the standards approved Tuesday were “a globalist agenda” that will “push our children into a collectivist mindset that’s designed to destroy their ability to self-govern.”

MDE held nine public meetings around the state in April and May and took comments on the standards online. Among those who responded to a survey, 54 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the standards, along with 67 percent of teachers who were satisfied or unsatisfied, according to MDE.

Few substantive changes were made to the standards following those meetings. A reference to the Ten Commandments was added to a section on the influence of legal codes and belief systems on the development of empires. A reference to loss of sturgeon was added as an example of current threats to Michigan natural resources.

The board was fiercely split along party lines. At one point Tuesday, board members debated the difference between socialism and authoritarianism. Republican members McMillin and Snyder said the standards were tilted too far left – a mirror of the complaint Democrats on the board had with the 2018 draft.

Board chair Casandra Ulbrich, D-Rochester Hills, said the five-year process “brought as many voices into the process as we possibly could.”

You can compare the 2018 draft that Democrats criticized with the April 2019 standards Republicans criticized, which are very similar to the final standards approved Tuesday, here.

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Daniel Jackson
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 6:55pm

It's about time!

Bill I.
Tue, 06/11/2019 - 8:18pm

If Janice Daniels doesn't like it, then I'm all for it!

Allyson D
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 7:13am

Thank you State Board of Education for passing these standards and shame on these so called Conservatives who desire to indoctrinate children with their twisted version of what Social Studies looks like.

If they are "pulling their kids out of public schools" as a result of these new social studies standards, so be it as it will be one less crazy parent with a brainwashed child a Teacher has to deal with.

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 9:22am

It's twisted that you exclude one group that has tolerated the twisted left for so long. Indoctrination has happened under Democrat poor leadership. Look at poor education in Democrat run districts. Detroit, Benton Harbor, etc. If you are going to have social studies, and that doesn't stand for emotional learning, you have to include all.

Kevin Grand
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 7:43am

When you shift the emphasis away from the foundations from which our system of government originated in order to accommodate wokeness, all I have to say is let the stupidity commence...

Paul Jordan
Sun, 06/16/2019 - 7:54am

Unfortunately, when the ACTUAL foundations of our government/Constitution/revolution are studied, it ain't so pretty--even if it's true. Back in the 50s and 60s, when I was taught history in school, I was indoctrinated into the myth that our history described a relentless, almost divinely-guided inevitable evolution from British oppression to our then-current post-war greatness. Sure, a few unsavory episodes were touched on (like slavery, native genocide, expropriative wars with Mexico, etc.) but these were but potholes on the road to economic success, liberty, and the adulation of the entire world.
In reality, our independence from Britain was triggered by fear of the possible abolition of slavery by Britain, and motivated by wanting to preserve the "rights" of propertied white European-American males in the face of movements for increased political and economic equality. The Second Amendment's preservation of state-run militias was enshrined in the Constitution for the purpose expressed (at the time) of preserving the slave patrols that were essential to preserve slavery's reign of terror and the institution itself, not so that everyone could own a muzzle-loader. In reality, Texans' plucky war for independence was not an expression of American's native love of liberty, but rather a successful attempt by transplanted southern slave masters to preserve their 'right' to continue to enslave other people in the face of Mexico's recent abolition of slavery. In reality, there have always been gay people contributing to America's success--and maybe there was even a gay president! (I mean, who really knows?)
If we are ever to truly become one people in this country, we must teach our children based on what is true, not on what maintains myths that are comforting to those in power. These new standards seek to do that as far as social studies are concerned, and I'm all for them.

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 7:48am

An example of the fact that the Left is just as concerned about indoctrination in its approach to "education" as they accuse the Right. Just another garbage exercise by a garbage government board making no difference serving no purpose other than taking attention from their overall failure. As that extreme Right wing ideologue Phil Powers has written about the State B of Ed, Get rid of it!

sweet pea
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 8:51am

lordy, lordy, it isn't what is best for the students - but whether it is left, right, center, conservative, liberal. the purpose of school is to educate the student. sounds like a lot of nitpicking to me. i suppose those parents who do not like it, could move to texas - where i understand they have lots of christian examples in their school programs. the purpose of school is to educate the students for the future.

when did our country get this crazy?

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 9:00am

The complainers sound like the parents in the film "Jesus Camp". Let's keep the separation of church and state in our public schools, otherwise home/church school. It's 2019, not 1019!

Kevin Shopshire
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 10:08am

After this reaction by the snowflakes, I know they did the right thing.

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 11:04am

The headline for this piece should read: "Right-wingers rebuffed after demanding state social studies curriculum adhere to political correctness."

A loss for the right-wing PC police is a win for Michigan's children and for our democratic republic.

Lin White
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 12:53pm

C'mon editors. This sentence is laughable. "along with 67 percent of teachers who were satisfied or unsatisfied, according to MDE."

That said, the content of the article is interesting and seems unbiased. Thank you Ron French. After following the issue and then reading this and the final standards, I am satisfied that this is an effective compromise. Please follow up. I would like to see a report on how 50 7th graders around the state define authoritarianism, socialism, social republic and democracy. Then, ask again in 10 years. These are the ones who will be our representatives then.

Also, to the parent who complained that we are just one among many. Um. We are all living on the same planet, buying goods from all over the planet, watching species disappear all over the planet, and fighting over religion all over the planet. I am one among many and I want my representatives to consider the impacts of each one of us on all of us.

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 12:56pm

C'mon guys, there have been Gay people all through history. Leave it alone. Hearing about Gay people is not going to turn your kids Gay

Chuck Jordan
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 2:16pm

Someone tell me how the standardized test question on gay rights will be worded? And what will the 4 answers be? Much ado about nothing.

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 3:59pm

It gets kinda crazy when you start submitting to the requests of fundamentalist religious people. I lived one place where "Christian" parents refused to allow Yoga classes in gym. I had not even known that Yoga exercise was anti-"Christian". I can't imagine that Jesus would have objected to people taking care of their corporeal temples.

Elsie Owings
Wed, 06/12/2019 - 9:20pm

When the opponents complain about adding references to climate change (which is a known reality and a serious threat to future generations) then it's obvious that their rejection of the standards is political, not educational.

Sat, 06/15/2019 - 2:09pm

How about including some Michigan Native American history.

Lucy Turner
Sun, 06/16/2019 - 7:56am

Sorry people but sometimes society chooses to include all of its people and the issues that affect them into our consciousness.
Exclusion does not make the people or the issues go away.