Don Lee is a St. Croix Review board member, and occasional cotributor.
The Importance of Social Studies Standards
Donald Lee is a member of the board of Religion & Society, the foundation that publishes The St. Croix Review, and he is the President of the Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota, a group that assesses the voting performance of each Minnesota state legislator.
I have seen chatter recently about the upcoming 2021 version of the Minnesota State Social Studies Standards, and the potential addition of critical race theory (CRT). The “update” of the social studies standards happens every 10 years, by statute. The Minnesota Department of Education bureaucrats lean left, and are always pushing to “hate American First,” along with other leftist goals.
This is my testimony to the “board” updating the standards on Dec. 20, 2012. My testimony was, “Wait a minute, we have to say something good about the U.S., lest our children be badly misled and reject our very culture.” Much to my dismay and surprise, a woman got up to rebut my testimony, and said, in essence, “He’s wrong. It’s very important that we teach our children about how bad we’ve been as a society.”
The standards, as updated in 2012, were not affected, as far as I know, by my comments.
Rereading this, I find that the anti-cultural agenda has not changed. The issues are the same today. The march toward rejection of our heroes, history, and culture continues. The rejection of the very ideas of personal responsibility and individual virtue continues. We enforce a standard on our public schools to teach bad history, bad civics, lies about our Founding Fathers, and now we even push explicit racism with CRT.
The following was my testimony:
“Thank you for the opportunity to address these important issues.
“I’d like to step back and ask a vital question. Why do we teach ‘social studies’ — civics, geography, economics, and history? What is the purpose?
“We teach our children these things in order to explain and inculcate the intellectual and ideological foundations on which our culture rests.
“History is especially important, because it gives to our young the wisdom of human experience. It tells where we’ve been and how we came to be where we are, not just physically, but intellectually and spiritually. It tells our students what has worked, and what has failed. It inspires them with the amazing accomplishments of those who went before us, and cautions them against repeating old mistakes. It provides perspective to help put new events in their proper place. History reminds us that deceptively simple solutions to complex problems have been tried before, and are almost always wrong.
“Civics is basic training in citizenship. Without instruction in how our republic works, and a full understanding of what can go wrong, our republic will wither into the certain tyranny that marks the rest of human history. Citizens need to understand their vital role. More importantly, they need motivation — reasons to care about doing the hard work of citizenship.
“So, I come to this hearing asking a question: Do these proposed new standards enhance the effort to teach our children these absolutely essential things?
“Unfortunately, the answer appears to be an emphatic ‘no.’
“Do not misunderstand. I recognize and appreciate all the work that has gone into these standards, and realize that the authors are every bit as dedicated to producing a good outcome as I am. There is much to like in these new standards, but fatal flaws demand correction.
“The flaws are not even directly in the text of the standards, but in the omissions and subtle ideological shifts that rob the subject matter of meaning. Take, for example, Standards 9 and 10 in the “World History” Substrand, which summarize the time period from 600 AD to 1750 AD. These clinical descriptions are worded with all the warmth of an entomologist analyzing a colony of ants, or a biologist dissecting a tissue sample.
“The writer is a disinterested observer, looking down on the human race, dispassionately enumerating causes and effects. No mention is made of key developments in Western thought — developments which laid the foundation for the birth of our nation.
“The wording in Substrand 4, United States History, is similarly sterile, where we read that the American Revolution resulted from ‘The divergence of colonial interests from those of England.’ Really? The heroes of our revolution fought and died over a divergence of interests?
“These statements are not factually false, but they reveal a concerted effort by the writers to be culturally neutral — to treat history as an object of scientific curiosity, rather than a distillation of human experience and wisdom to be passed on to our descendants.
“The proposed 2011 standards seem carefully worded to avoid any hint of ethnocentrism or nationalism. The writers seem to believe that the ability to draw your own historical conclusions can be taught apart from any suppositions about what is good, or virtuous, or desirable. This is simply untrue. Like it or not, education is indoctrination. Teachers are authority figures. If a teacher presents the story of our past with the air of a detached observer, or a critical armchair quarterback, the students will absorb that attitude and carry it forward into their adult role as citizens. It is crucial that the narrative of our history be cast in a positive light. Ours is a history rich in creativity, triumph, compassion, and genius. We have tamed a continent, fed the world, resisted, and defeated tyranny. The American revolution launched a system of government never before tried on the face of the earth. That system of ordered liberty, rule of law, and personal freedom unleashed a torrent of creativity and productivity that triggered a technological revolution that transformed the world. The proposed social studies standards minimize and downplay this miracle, while opening the door to a much darker narrative about our role as a people and a nation.
“In the darker narrative, America prospered only through imperialism and the exploitation of minorities. Humanity is now finally emerging from the oppression of white European ethnocentrism. The downtrodden, third-world peoples are finally coming to have an equal seat at the table, and we look forward to the dawn of a new era of peace as we finally free ourselves from the evils of nationalism, and stop the rape and pillage of resources from Mother Earth. There is truth in this dark narrative, but it is by no means the whole story, and if this is what we teach our schoolchildren, how can we expect them to take any pride in being Americans? Why should they serve in the Army, or speak up in defense of the principles that our country was founded on? Why should they devote themselves to hard work in productive industries, knowing that any success they might achieve rests on so disgraceful a foundation?
“The proposed standards do not, of course, mandate this dark narrative. They provide a skeleton of broad ideas, which can be fleshed out by each school district as it sees fit.
“This skeleton is dramatically different than the standards of 2004, and I think incompatible with what is necessary to equip our students to be guardians of our republic.
“The new standards remove heroic figures from the benchmarks by the dozen, and replace the positive and heroic portrayal of pivotal figures and events in our history with the obscure, the trivial, and the inoffensively mundane.
“The standards ignore our uniqueness and the foundational ideas that enable self-government. These core ideas must be understood, as our Founders understood them, to achieve any comprehension of what they built. Personal responsibility, natural inalienable rights, and the rule of law are key concepts. Without a proper understanding of these foundational ideas, there is little point in teaching the rest. These are the self-evident truths in the Declaration of Independence that our Founders fought and died for.
“The new standards are simply wrong about the role of democracy in our history. The standards make mention of this in many places, offering the idea that we have “democratic values” and live in “a democracy.” Civics standard three makes mention of “majority rule.”
“Anyone familiar with the history of our Founders would know that they read Plato’s Republic, and the history of Western civilization. They knew that democracies had been tried.
“As Thomas Jefferson put it: ‘A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51 percent of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.’
“No, our Founders were careful to ensure that we did not get a democracy. Their writings were full of admonitions, and to blithely declare our government to be ‘a democracy’ reveals either a profound ignorance, or an ideological agenda to misread our history.
“History and civics are taught of necessity, not for fun. We do it for survival, to impart the vital experience of those who went before us to those who follow us. We do it to give our children context, and purpose, and perspective. We do it to equip the next generation with the wisdom of the previous generations, and to help them avoid the mistakes of the past.
“These proposed standards strip out what is important in a quest for some undefined ideal of cultural and ideological neutrality. They remove what is important in favor of the trivial. They go in exactly the wrong direction.
“I urge rejection of the standards as written, so as to allow time and energy to repair their flaws. Failing that, our local schools would be far better off setting their own standards, as though they were actually run by the local school boards, and not by vassals, mere agents of the state education establishment.
“Thank you.” *
I Will Discriminate
Don Lee is a board member of Religion & Society, Inc., the foundation that publishes the St. Croix Review. This essay was first published by The St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Recent questions about who would, or wouldn't, support a Muslim for president have created quite a hubbub.
Donald Trump has taken heat for failing to challenge an assertion that President Obama is a Muslim. Ben Carson has been denounced for saying that he would not advocate putting a Muslim in charge of this nation. The debate swirls amidst charges of discrimination. This moment offers a golden opportunity to correct some horribly misguided ideas about discrimination and the nature of faith and its role in the public square.
I am a citizen, and it is my job to choose who will hold important leadership positions. It is my duty to make good judgments about the candidates and vote for the ones that will make wise choices for all of us.
Let's be clear - I Will discriminate.
I will discriminate between the wise and the foolish.
I will discriminate between those who share my values and those who despise my values.
I will discriminate between those who have demonstrated commitment to public service and those who appear to have other motives.
I will discriminate between those with strong character and clear personal discipline over those with a history of personal failings.
I will discriminate between those who are healthy and those who are too aged or too infirm to stand the rigors of office.
I will discriminate between the trustworthy and the untrustworthy.
I will discriminate between those who are skillful and experienced versus those who are untested.
I will discriminate between those whose professed religion supports their political positions and our Constitution, versus those who have no faith, or who have a faith incompatible with our Constitution.
Ben Carson's statements about what he would support in a candidate were twisted into a violation of our Constitution's rejection of a "religious test" to hold office. Did Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, really not understand the difference between "would not be eligible" and "I would not support"? For many of us, our beliefs are foundational. Her comments suggest the absurd idea that voters should choose candidates for office without considering those beliefs at all.
Religious faith is not merely membership in a club. It is not a personal trait or an ethnicity. For all of us, our beliefs inform our concept of reality. Some of us believe we are precious creations of a Supreme Being. Others will tell you that we are merely complex chemical concoctions, nothing more. There is a huge variety of belief. Different faiths make different demands, and posit different narratives of reality and moral law. Few things in a public resume have more to say about a candidate than faith as professed, and religion as followed.
In this nation, our officials must be committed to preserving and defending the pluralism that maintains our politics as a vibrant marketplace of ideas. No group, whether minority or majority, may use government to enforce a particular political point of view or set of beliefs. In our nation, even abhorrent ideas can - and must - be freely expressed, and their expression defended, without fear of any official sanction. Religion should not be a litmus test. We cannot allow religion to be a requirement or disqualifier for office, but it is ridiculous to suggest that voters ignore it.
The very ideas of freedom of conscience, personal liberty, freedom of religion, and the Rule of Law are derived from concepts rooted in Judeo-Christian ideas about equality and humility before God. Our basic law is based on Mosaic Law. Our Constitution rests on this foundation. Not all religions are compatible with those premises. Not all religions accept pluralism as a virtue. Not all religions support dissent, and religious freedom. My votes will carefully consider the religions and religious practices of political candidates.
Ben Carson's comments were not about "discrimination," but a statement about his judgment as a voter. They were about who would be best to serve in high office, and be charged with preserving our free society. Voting wisely is a duty we all share. We do well to put aside the labels and silly charges of "discrimination," and take that job seriously. *