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Garfield Re-2 school district considers new social studies curriculum

Photo via the Garfield Re-2

Garfield Re-2 school district has been holding a series of community meetings as it considers a possible switch to the American Birthright Standards.

The social studies curriculum was created by the Civics Alliance and endorsed by school board Vice President Tony May.

Education journalist Erica Meltzer of Chalkbeat Colorado has covered the issue in detail as some schools are considering the standards.

Meltzer: The American Birthright Standards were developed in response to a number of trends in civics and social studies education. These include efforts to make social studies instruction more inclusive, to tie civics education more to some of the equity and social justice movements that are happening. And this is something that goes back more than a decade, sort of some developing trends within social studies education.

And, you know, frankly, I'm 45 and there's a lot of things that are really important in American history that I didn't learn in school that my kids are learning in school, but I think there's also people who are concerned that bringing in these more diverse narratives. starts to paint a negative view of the United States that it undermines our unity as a nation.

And so there's been a push to correct that and to put out standards and curriculum that reflect the idea that sort of a sort of a heroic story of the United States. They're controversial partly because the story of our history is always going to be a contested ground. They're also controversial because a number of the people who are involved in putting them together are fairly open about their conservative politics.

And the National Council for Social Studies is the, the big national organization for social studies teachers has said that they, they don't think these standards reflect an accurate or complete view of American history.

Rensberry: Would you say that there are certain regions in the U. S. that are leaning more towards looking at these standards as an option?

Meltzer: I mean, I think places where conservative political views are more dominant have been more likely to adopt these standards.

Rensberry: When going through the website for this set of standards, it's noted on there that they have some partners in various states, about ten, that are encouraging the use of these suggested curriculums, but I don't see any states taking on this particular set of standards.

What have you seen in regards to that and what kinds of partners are these?

Meltzer: For example, the Colorado affiliate that they list is the Independence Institute, which presents itself as a libertarian think tank. They have a lot of overlap with, with what people would consider as conservative political ideas.

The Independence Institute was very active in opposing the revised Colorado social studies standards, which were adopted last year and were controversial in some parts of the state for their emphasis on a more inclusive approach to social studies standards. We also see that, for example, a number of scholars involved in developing the American birthright curriculum come from Hillsdale College, and Hillsdale College is a Christian college in Michigan that also provides curriculum to a lot of classical academy charter schools, which provide what they present as a more traditional education.

And so these are some of the places that you would see these ideas promoted or supported. Of course, Woodland Park became the first school district in Colorado to adopt the American Birthright Social Studies and Civic Standards as their own. And now Garfield, RE2, is considering adopting them. And we've seen this emerge in Colorado as a bit of a backlash to those state standards.

It was a divided vote in the State Board of Education. In many of the more conservative parts of the state that were opposed to these new social studies standards. And so we see school districts sort of going their own way with these standards that they feel are more aligned to their political values.

Rensberry: When you talk about sort of these more traditional school standards for social studies, what sort of things are included in those standards?

Meltzer: The overall view you will get is a more heroic story of the American nation. For example, if you look at the state social studies standards, there was a really big emphasis this time around on a more inclusive narrative on including more voices and more perspectives, and that means bringing in groups that were historically more marginalized.

And maybe have not had a good experience always in this country. Maybe they have had experiences of oppression, of slavery, of discrimination. Whereas the American birthright standard, they'll say, you know, they say very, very upfront, like we oppose racism, but the overall sort of narrative that they value is, is one of progress.

So for example, American expansion across the West. Is seen as something really important and good that that brought sort of Republican democracy to a much larger swath of territory and secured resources that the nation needed. And this is like an active positive good, as opposed to certainly not a genocidal venture and and not wanting to present it as this very sort of contested thing. That had a lot of negative, along with whatever positive you might see, like, so, for example, they talk about holding up the pioneers and honoring them. Whereas if you had a curriculum that really centered indigenous voices, you might have a very different view of that.

Copyright 2023 KDNK. To see more, visit KDNK.

This storywas shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Hattison Rensberry grew up in Rifle, CO and earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design and drawing at the University of Northern Colorado. She comes to KDNK as reporter and host after working on the design-side of news for the past three years. Hattie does theater locally, photography, needlecrafts, and also provides editorial design for the Sopris Sun.