Social studies teachers: Politicians influencing new standards more than educators

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

Georgia teachers asked to review and rewrite the k-12 social studies standards are expressing dismay over the draft released by the state Board of Education. Despite their hundreds of hours of work, teachers say they don't recognize much of what has been put forth by the board.

They say the draft now speaks to a political agenda rather than an educational one.

Among the politicians seeking to shape the standards is state State Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who sent State School Superintendent Richard Woods and the state school board a detailed critique.

You can read Ligon's letter here, but this is how it starts off:

In addition, the shift away from these historical roots in Western Civilization is replaced with a focus on early American Indian cultures. Though important, we should recognize that the dominate features of our culture are no longer anchored in native American cultures, but in the Anglo-­American traditions of Western Civilization, and therefore, the historical focus should major on the majors, not major in the minor themes of displaced cultures. This shift in focus reminds me far too much of the recent problems we addressed in the AP U.S. History Framework. We should not repeat the mistakes of the College Board in our own Social Studies standards.

Furthermore, there is a shift in language choices in how our nation is described. The previous standards clearly recognized that students needed to study our "foundations of a republican form of government." The new description is that our nation is a "representative democracy." This language shift starts in Grade 3. Though still a correct term, it does not reflect how our Founders most referred to this nation, which was as a "confederate Republic." In fact, I never see the term "confederate Republic" anywhere, and only once do I see the term "Republic" mentioned in the high school standards.

Starting with Grade 1, I find no logical reason why President George Washington continues to be omitted from the standards. This should be corrected. He is not mentioned until Grade 4, and this is far too late to introduce our most preeminent Founding Father.

Grade 1 also needs to build on the American symbols learned in Kindergarten. For example, why not add the Liberty Bell and what it represents? Why not have the teaching of the Pledge of Allegiance or the introduction of the poem, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere? Why not introduce the first 13 colonies and have the students identify the original 13 colonies on a map?

Also, in Grade 2, students should be introduced to another Economic Standard, SS2E5  -- "Explain why private property rights are necessary for a free society."

A disappointed teacher shared a letter with me that she wrote to state school board members:

The set of standards provided to the Board do not reflect the feedback or approval of the stakeholders in the State of Georgia. There were additions and changes made to the standards after the committee approved the final draft on March 17, 2016.

If the Board moves forward and approves the standards as they have been submitted, you will be disregarding the time and commitment of over 9,000 educators and 2,000 other Georgia stakeholders. You will lose the trust and faith Georgia educators have placed in you.  We were told our voice is being heard. Is it?

Among the questions raised by the teacher:

•Why do the last-minute changes reflect the input of one legislator, as evidenced by his letter written to the Superintendent? Changes that were summarily voted against in committee?

•Where are the U.S. History and American Government standards, both of which went through the entire review process?

•Where is the data supporting the idea for a two-year hybrid of these two courses?

The executive director of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies alerted teachers to the discrepancies in the draft and urged them to contact the state board before its meeting Thursday.

Before you read the warning letter, I would like to explain why this bothers me and why it ought to bother you.

The Legislature spent a lot of time this session talking about how important it was to treat teachers as professionals and listen to what they have to say. This sort of political shenanigans negates all that rhetoric. It shows teachers their expertise is not valued and will be quickly discarded for political expediency.

Dear GCSS Member:

As you know, the social studies standards have been under review for over a year.  The Georgia Board of Education adopted a process that included four review committees. Each review committee was charged with the “process” which included the comments of over 9,000 Georgia educators and stakeholders.  The last committee review was held on Wednesday, March 16, 2016.

Those of us who have been carefully watching the review process unfold were very surprised to find  there are major discrepancies between the work of the 3/16/16 review committee and the now posted “draft” standards.

To see the draft standards, go here.

It seems that certain items were dropped into the curriculum after the 3/16/16 committee had completed their work and voted on the changes made to each grade level/course.

Here are a few examples of random additions:

Christmas and Columbus Day in Kindergarten

George Washington and several additional memorials in first grade as well as the reclassification of George Washington Carver from science to agriculture

King George III and government elements in third grade

An entire element concerning the arguments of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in 4th grade

Mao Tse Tung and Nikita Khrushchev and details concerning the War on Terror in the 5th grade

Iran in 7th grade (despite specific debate agreeing to keeping the countries to be studied to a smaller number and of those studied to include history, geography, government and economics)

As well as the absence of the U.S. History and American Government standards with no posted explanation of why they were not present even though both had gone through the revision process.  (This is another issue entirely which is concerning.)

Teachers from all over Georgia took time away from their classrooms to spend very long days revising the GPS and using the comments of the 9,000 as a guide.  At each step along the way, teachers and others documented the changes and cited support and commentary from the surveys.  Another important component of the committee work was that the majority of teachers wanted a more conceptual framework.  Yet, the additions cited above would make the entire K-12 curriculum more fact-based than conceptual.

These last-minute changes appear to be out of line with the public and formal revision process that was adopted and followed. At the 3/16 review committee meeting, there were emails and letters from public figures that were not a part of the teacher surveys.  Furthermore, these emails and letters contain many of the random items listed above and were rarely supported in the teacher surveys.  Some of the information was used if appropriate in the revised document.

If a few people are able to overturn the comments of thousands and the work of hundreds who were a part of the committees, then the whole process is called into question.

In addition, Georgia Council for the Social Studies and other groups sent letters of support to the Georgia Department of Education.  Our support is certainly now in question.

If you are concerned about this issue, please contact your state board of education member before the State Board Meeting on Thursday. I believe it is vitally important that we let it be known that many of our members were intimately involved in the revision process and that ALL of our members will be involved in using the curriculum with our students.

Eddie Bennett, Ed.D.

Executive Director, Georgia Council for the Social Studies

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