New task force to help improve social studies standards

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By LANCE COHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — A new task force will sort through thousands of comments to help educational officials update social studies standards.

The Department of Education recently selected a task force made up of volunteers to  review an online survey and comments from 18 statewide hearings.

The department received more than 4,000 comments both online and in person, said Bill DiSessa, a communications officer for the agency.

The task force will prepare a draft of standards that will go before the state Board of Education, he said.

The goal is to provide educators with better guidance on what they should teach.  

The standards were last updated in 2007, so there’sroom for improvement, said David Crim, a communication consultant for the Michigan Education Association. But some groups have very different ideas of improvement.

There are progressive and conservative voices on both sides of this topic, DiSessa said.

“There was no overwhelming opinion favoring one side or another but almost everyone agreed that something needs to be done because the standards are out of date,” DiSessa said.

But the issue is controversial and political.

Suggestions made by Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, sparked outrage among some community members and teachers across the state, Crim said.

Colbeck proposed that references to the Ku Klux Klan, LGBTQ rights and climate change be removed from the standards.

He also proposed that the word “democratic” should be removed from the phrase “core democratic values” in every reference in the standards to be more politically neutral.

“Why are we using the term core democratic values when we are technically not a democracy.” Colbeck said. “I proposed that we use core American values but they neutered that and we decided on core values.”

The standards in use today don’t provide a balanced discussion on the different worldviews, Colbeck said.

“For decades we have not had politically neutral and accurate standards,” Colbeck said. “They have been significantly tilted toward a progressive world view and that has been unfair to people that have a different world view.”

Crim says that removing those elements from the social studies curriculum will hurt education.

“This is definitely an attempt to whitewash history, and it appears to be politically motivated,” Crim said. “It will shortchange students and put them at a disadvantage in college and out there in the real world.”

Colbeck says that much of the blowback against him was a hit job by the political left to make him look bad during the recent Republican gubernatorial primary, when he was an unsuccessful candidate.

“I worked on this focus group for two years,” Colbeck said. “We didn’t hear boo about what was going on with the social studies standards until it was announced that I was running for governor. And then as that came out there they began to make a big issue out of it.”

The Michigan Council for the Social Studies is pleased with the department’s effort to improve the standards, said Rebecca Bush, the council’s president.

“Following the listen-and-learn sessions, the Department of Education has been responsive to the questions and comments that have been raised by community members around the state,” Bush said.

DiSessa said the new draft of the standards is likely to come before a vote of the state Board of Education during the middle of next year.