Colorado’s new social studies standards demonstrate why parents need to do their own homework and study what their children are taught in school.
The Colorado State Board of Education has adopted newly revised social studies standards that include history, civics, geography, economics and financial literacy after a year-long process that elicited strong opinions from state board members and the public. The social studies review committee presented the proposed standards to the board last November after spending months incorporating directives from the legislature adopted in five bills.
For decades, as it should, Colorado law has required students to learn about the history, culture and contributions of African Americans, Hispanic Americans and American Indians. In 2019, House Bill 19-1192 was passed adding Asian Americans and religious minorities to the required studies, as well as individuals from the LGBTQ community. The new social studies standards introduce children starting in preschool to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Our public school system has been a battleground for social transformation for more than a hundred years. If parents read the Colorado Social Studies Academic Standards, the embedded politically progressive bent will be obvious.
“Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?” is a compilation of essays published by the Fordham Foundation. Chester E. Finn Jr. wrote in the book’s forward that those who took over the field of social studies possessed no respect for Western civilization and saw America as a problem for humanity rather than mankind’s best hope. Diane Ravitch, a well-known education historian, wrote in her essay that the term social studies was unknown until 1913. She explains that a 1918 report published by the National Education Association suggested that the goal of social studies was good citizenship and that historical studies that did not contribute to social change had no value.
Many were shocked to see how unfairly America was portrayed. The unvarnished history of America should be taught, but it must include our accomplishments, not just our shortcomings. Otherwise, students are not learning the whole truth, which is harmful to all, including to some of our most vulnerable children who need to know that no matter their skin color, they have hope and opportunity.
The standards review committee considered the record-setting number of public comments and modified the new standards before presenting its final work to the State Board of Education last spring. They tried to be more balanced in the portrayal of America. The committee also offered a compromise by removing the mention of LGBTQ from below fourth grade after hearing from hundreds of parents and community members that they did not want their young children exposed to sexual orientation and gender identity without parental consent.
In the final vote, the Democrat members, who control the Colorado State Board of Education and will continue to do so following the 2022 elections, rejected the review committee’s compromise. They also ignored the argument from parents that parents should control when sexual orientation and gender identity are introduced to their young children.
The standards have been adopted. Now, it is up to parents to do their due diligence to discover what their children are learning. And unfortunately, it is not as easy as it should be.
When my daughters, now in their 30s, attended school, there were no secrets about educational materials. As a parent, I knew which textbooks they would learn from and the names of the books they would read in literature classes.
Today, many educational resources purchased by districts are hidden behind password-protected portals or gathered from various internet sites. Parents don’t always have easy access to the materials.
Parents want to be partners in education. And transparency is critical to foster the trust that underlies true partnership. School districts have policies regulating how materials are chosen; some districts honor parental concerns about curricula more than others. Independence Institute’s publication Curriculum Transparency: A Must for Effective Parent-Teacher Partnerships empowers parents with the knowledge to better understand district policies and their rights as parents to view curricula.
School districts and schools should be transparent with whatever they are teaching students. The new social studies standards should signal parents to demand and expect access to all educational materials used in their children’s classrooms.
Pam Benigno is director of education policy at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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