Social studies school standards provoke debate among educators

The Georgia board of education on Thursday postponed implementing new social studies standards after teachers and others questioned changes made by the state superintendent.

A committee comprising teachers and other experts spent more than a year designing the proposed overhaul of the standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade. Superintendent Richard Woods, however, changed some of their recommendations without consulting them.

Some educators are upset over a letter written by a state senator to Woods and the school board requesting changes. Concerns raised by Sen. William T. Ligon, R-Brunswick, appear to be reflected in the changes by Woods. For instance, Ligon complained that the teacher committee wanted to call America a "representative democracy" rather than a "republican form of government."

"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," Eddie Bennett, executive director of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies, wrote in a statement published by the AJC Monday.

Woods and his team at the Georgia Department of Education wound up recommending that the state board go with “constitutional republic,” reasoning that is how the CIA Factbook describes the country. The department produced a document with reasons for his other amendments, which amounted to less than 4 percent of what the teachers had proposed.

Woods also added Christmas and Columbus Day to the national holidays studied in kindergarten, explaining that kindergartners are already studying other national holidays.

The history content selected for students to learn is often a politically-charged subject. Last year, the College Board changed its Advanced Placement U.S. History course after hearing criticism from Georgians, including lawmakers and Woods.

This time, Woods was on the receiving end.

“We all have heard the concerns,” state education board member Helen Rice said at Thursday’s board meeting. She recommended postponing final approval of the changes, perhaps until the board’s meeting in May, and the board agreed.

“I think we’re correct in calling a time out,” said board chairman Mike Royal. “We want to be crystal clear on what’s happened.”

Woods’ staff will now go back to the committee that had worked so long on the recommendations, inviting members to reconvene and review his changes.