Public outcry delays Michigan social studies standards

Proposed changes to Michigan social studies standards drew crowds at recent public foums, including one this month in Saginaw. The proposal would have removed  references to LGBT individuals, climate change, Roe v. Wade and deleted “democratic” from “core democratic values.” (Bridge photo by Ron French)

July 23 update: Six more meetings set on controversial Michigan social studies standards

Public outcry over proposed changes to social studies standards for Michigan’s public schools – changes that include deletion of references to gay rights, climate change, Roe v. Wade and the removal of “democratic” from “core democratic values – has forced the Michigan Department of Education to delay final decisions on the standards.

The education department announced Friday that the public comment period, which had been scheduled to end June 30, will be extended to September 30. Public comments also will continue to be accepted online through the end of September, with a second round of public hearings will be held in August and September.

“With the great level of interest in the development of the revised Social Studies standards, we are extending the public input time in order to continue reaching across the state for additional comment,” Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles said in a news release Friday afternoon, about 24 hours before the public comment period was to end.

The controversy swirling around the draft of revised standards began when Bridge Magazine published an article June 12 chronicling changes to the standards that had been made by a focus group that included several prominent Michigan conservatives, including Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, a candidate for governor. The focus group did not include any Democratic legislators or representatives from any left-leaning organizations.

Related articles on Michigan social studies controversy:

Following that article, public hearings that had been drawing less than a half-dozen people swelled to more than 200; online comments exploded from a total of about 200 before the article to more than 2,000 one week later.

Linda Forward, director of the office of educational improvement in the state education department, said the department is happy that there is large public interest in the standards. She describes the meetings as “passionate and civil.”

The new standards must be approved by the State Board of Education to take the place of current standards. Board members, who are elected in statewide elections, are split, four Democrats and four Republicans. The standards appeared to be headed to a showdown on the board, with the Democratic members voicing opposition to the changes.

The standards were initially scheduled to be discussed at the August state board meeting, but that will now likely be delayed until the extended public comment period has concluded. Democratic board member Pamela Pugh told Bridge last week that there was “no rush” to finalize the standards.

The dates and locations of the future public hearings are still being finalized, with plans to include sites in the Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan, West Michigan, metro Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, according to an education department release.

Input can be provided online through September 30 by going to and clicking the “Request For Public Comment” box to access the proposed draft version of the Social Studies standards and offer online comments.

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Sun, 07/01/2018 - 10:27am

What?! Because you personally do not like references to gay rights, climate change, Roe vs. Wade, you want to rewrite history and even remove the word "democratic" from core democratic values? I think not. We are a Democracy! That is our history!

Mon, 07/02/2018 - 11:20am

It is disappointing that you seem to ignore accuracy for convenience. Is a out form of government a republic or a democracy? Do we vote for representatives or does the public vote on each and every law?
As for such things as 'gay rights' is that somehow different from the rights of all others, has personal rights been established in the founding of our country that the application a moment in time for clarity and application? Each time an a current political topic/issue/problem is inject into a set of standard for a broad set of practice they are changing the standard into a partisan political tool.
It seems much of the changes in the 'social studies' education standards are much about the removal of suggested/recommended topics and not necessarily historic topics. I would suggest that much of what is being removed are transitory topics, more current events, that would be raised by students in asking about application of the social studies topics, such a government, foundation documents.

Climate change is a good example, since the climate has been change since the earth was first form why would it be a social studies topic rather than a science topic? I would rather see the standards include more about 'critical thinking,' about the unintended consequences that social and civil action were taken to address political issues. How many time have we seen the social structure disrupted by political good intentions? Where you seem to want current political topics included in the standard, I would like to see raining of discipline thinking be included in the standards. My approach would include review/discussion of social topics of 50 years ago and how the political means impacted our society, then comparing those to the current issues and the means/methods being pushed to address them.
To me standards should be a source of valuable knowledge, skills, means and methods, but not a set of requirements for how they should be applied.

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 12:09am

Very well said.

Joel Casler
Tue, 07/03/2018 - 1:34pm

duane, your subterfuge only detracts from the discussion. Simply put, saying "is there a rabbit over there" and pointing away from the issue does no one any good. And you know it... You speak about science, yet you deny it's teaching. THAT is exactly what makes it a Social Studies issue. Proof not learned from is bound to repeat itself an perhaps manifest itself in another form. And you are just the proof that is needed to confirm this !!

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 2:16pm

I try to work with what a person has said so we have a common reference for discussion.

You claim I am denying science and yet you offer nothing specific, what you say has no common point we can discuss. I am no even clear on why raise the issue of science and social studies. I do believe I equated one [science] to the other [social studies], unless you think critical thinking only should apply to science [I believe when we approach any idea or problem we are critical in our thinking to minimize the unwanted consequences, this is something my wife and I did when we decided to have children].
I am not sure if you are concerned with the idea of learning from history and applying those lesson to approaches to current problems. If you have something specific [what I said] or how you feel what I have described would screw up approaches to current social topics, please share it so I can better understand you perspectives.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 07/03/2018 - 2:10pm

Ours is not a pure democracy, but it is a democracy.
It is disappointing that you seem to ignore accuracy for convenience.

Thu, 07/05/2018 - 2:19pm

Can you be more specific, what is your definition of democracy, and how do you feel it differs from a republic or why you believe they are the same?

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 7:37am

Quick question - while I don't think this is a bad aprroach, with what time would you do this? Government classes in high school are typically a semester. Taking the time to teach the historical context/background analysis to make such an argument would be extremely time consuming (the kids don't know as much as you might think)...

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 9:56am


You are right, I don't know enough, but if those that do know the system aren't asking the questions or offering the ideas that will press the students than nothing will change. The other side of not knowing maybe not being preventing from change.
I would use something in the past 60 years or so, there is relatively easily accessible information about the times [in many cases there are people available that can add a personal perspective], it issues/problems are still of concern today [so relevant to the students]. I don’t know how much world history the students have been given, how much were students taught about how geography influences history around the dark ages. I think that would be a simpler setting to use, but less interesting/relevant to students.
The point is providing the students with the tools of thinking and even listening, not simply accepting.
If the civics class is in the senior year, when we would expect the students’ skills and knowledge of learning being at its highest level, it may be a time to put more responsibility, greater expectations on the students, by having them do the work [learning how to gather information]. This could be time consuming for the teachers, I would add a team approach where a teacher uses a cadre of volunteers [properly screened and oriented] to do much of the student coaching for gather the information, teacher about thinking, asking/listening, analyzing, etc. If school is about learning, then it is a point in the education that students are preparing to face the ‘real’ world post high school.
The final exam could be a student picking a person in their world [celebrities, social/family members, etc.] doing the same historic analysis and use themselves for the current analysis.
As for the students time, are you suggesting they haven’t developed good study habits? In practice, the most difficult part of this would be starting with a blank pages and trying to figure our what to ask about , what elements are appropriate for framing the context, what are the issues to be concerned with, etc. The teacher and the team could identify a starting/minimum set of such questions [so the page isn’t blank], even many of the potential sources could be included on the assignment page. This would shift the time demand to capturing the information and developing the description. If time demand is still too much for the students than added communications and socialization and team skills by making the assignment a 3-5 student team assignment.
Whether it be a student going off to college or a student going out to find a job with a local employer they will have been forced out of their individualized cocoon.

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 12:34pm

"As for such things as 'gay rights' is that somehow different from the rights of all others" This comment of yours perfectly explains 'why' gay rights MUST be included in the social studies curriculum in public education. The rights of gay people should have NEVER been different than those afforded to 'all others'...but society denied equal rights (rights afforded to 'all others') to gay people for decades, making them unequal to 'all others.' Furthermore, many conservatives continue to step on their rights to this day and would undo their hard-fought equality if given the opportunity. It is for those two reasons that this issue MUST be included in the social studies curriculum. You cannot exclude gay people from rights afforded to 'all others' for decades, and then suddenly claim that because they now have legal equality in society and are, therefore, equal to 'all others,' claim it is not a subject for social studies. By excluding gay people in the 'all others' category for decades, society made this a social studies issue...if gay people had not had to desperately fight for equal rights but were treated equally all along, then gay rights would not be a social studies topic. But they HAD to desperately fight for equal rights...for the right to be equal to 'all others'...and because many still face discrimination from those who are unaccepting of them as 'equal to all others,' we must continue to teach our youth of their fight for equality. By the way, please look into taking an ESL class.

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 9:35pm

You seem to presume too much; not emphasizing a specific group does not mean it is being excluded.
To select one group above all others for special treatment risks the perception that their civil rights are different and more important than all the others which leaves the impression of prejudice toward all others.
A topic shouldn't be about a particular group and how it differs, but about how all are similar and deserve equal access, it should be about what people do and not who they are or who their parents are. A topic should be about access/opportunity. We are not equal; we see that in classrooms, on athletic fields, in common activities such as entertainment, academia, the marketplace. We see how people by effort alone can overcome less than the greatest capabilities, while others with greater capabilities can fail from lack of effort, but as long as they have opportunity then there is equality.
As for there still being people not accepting of others, what is in the heart or mind of an individual is not something that the state by law or other means can or should try to control. The topic should be about the public process/law/regulations to not purposely deny access.
What is the ELS class? Why should I take such a class? Where are such classes available? When suggesting classes you may consider asking a bit about me, experience with these issues, discrimination. Assuming too much can be how prejudice is built.

Your belief that a single group needs to be singled out for special consideration epitomizes why I don't think specific groups should be included in the standards. Such an approach does nothing but risk creating an impression that other groups are excluded because they don't meet your standard of importance.

Sat, 07/07/2018 - 10:12pm

The United States is a Representative Democracy.

Dr. Richard Zeile
Mon, 07/02/2018 - 9:27am

Why was there no story when the Southern Poverty Law Center was asked to review (and thus influence) these standards?

At that time, there were six Democrats on the State Board of Education, and so the MDE felt that the Southern Poverty Law Center, a political not an educational entity, was the appropriate agency to evaluate our standards. Now that we have a 4 to 4 balance on the Board, with balance being sought for our standards, the Media wants to make an issue. Where were you 3 years ago?

Agnosticrat 2.0
Tue, 07/03/2018 - 6:48am

Whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent's position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument, which is particularly associated with Soviet and Russian propaganda.

Joan K. Emrick
Tue, 07/03/2018 - 11:53am

Our children deserve to know our history.
Don't distort because you are uncomfortable with it.

Al Churchill
Fri, 07/06/2018 - 4:35pm

A good number of years ago the high school social studies curriculum was under revision in the same manner that revision is under discussion today. At the time, I followed the State Board of Education pretty closely. As the State Board listed its desires and sent it to the committee doing the actual curriculum changes, I reviewed those changes and concluded that the content could just as well have been done by the Chamber of Commerce.

Let me digress.

The Chamber has every right to exist and express it's point of view.. It must be remembered, however, that they represent a particular right wing point of view that does not always align with the public interest. Their economic philosophy is based in the hope that private vice ultimately mutates into public virtue. The Gilded Age proved the fallacy of that hope. it's not not likely that their version of a social science curriculum can be passed off as being objective.

They have every right, indeed a responsibility, to participate in a public curriculum change. They do not have the right to dominate the proceedings as seemed the wish of many on the State Board at that time.

To make a long story short, I volunteered for a seat on the citizens committee that worked on the curriculum revision. I was appointed and, sure enough, a Chamber of Commerce person sat three or four seats from me on that committee., where I expressed my opinion about the, in my opinion, biased instructions sent from the State Board to the academics actually doing the changes.

The situation ended on a positive note thank goodness. At the conclusion of the mentioned citizens committee meeting, I was walking out of the room when two people very, very, very close to the curriculum change, stopped me." Al, they said, you should be a professor. What you said in that room, is exactly what the academics doing the revision said when they received their instructions from the Michigan Board of Education".

So, don't fret too much folks. The academics that do the actual revision are not going to give up the expertise and truth that their experience and research has provided them with just because some out of the professional loop advocates want them to.