This story was updated after publication to include the results from the board's Feb. 4 vote on the K-12 standards.
The State Board of Education heard revisions to recommended K-12 social studies standards Jan. 27, with some Republican board members saying the “anti-American” standards will teach public school students that the nation is racist.
The board voted 7-5 to approve the proposed changes and implementation of the standards at its meeting on Thursday, which included new State Superintendent Catherine Truitt’s amended language — removing “systemic racism,” “gender identity,” and “systemic discrimination” from the standards and replacing the words with racism, discrimination and identity.
That standards will go into effect this fall, and are intended to guide teachers in discussing the nation's history, good and bad. At the meeting, Democrats tried to re-introduce the "systemic racism," "gender identity," and "systemic discrimination" phrases in the standards, but were unsuccessful. Some Republicans on the board were still displeased with the 5th draft of the standards, calling them anti-American.
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, like Truitt, a Republican, previously likened the standards to “leftist dogma” and said the three changes made were unsatisfactory.
“The system of government that we have in this nation is not systematically racist,” Robinson said of the standards. “In fact, it is not racist at all.”
Robinson, the state’s first Black Lieutenant Governor, pointed to his election to the state’s second-highest post as evidence against the existence of systemic racism at last week's meeting. On Thursday, he also pointed to an online petition with more than 30,000 signatures against the new standards.
The process for the Draft 4 standards began in April 2019, when the board voted to proceed with the revision of the standards. From September 2019 through May 2020, the board’s presentation slides said, writing and review teams worked on three different drafts of the standards, holding public feedback periods and collecting more than 7,000 survey responses. After voting in July to delay approval time to add language which would reflect “a more inclusive approach,” the N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction team worked until last month to complete the fourth draft.
Eighty-five percent of the public who submitted feedback were in support of the standards, the board’s presentation said. The fifth draft, with very minor changes from the fourth, is what was approved Thursday.
Chatham Middle School Principal Chad Morgan told the News + Record he thinks it’s important the standards clearly define terms and concepts teachers are expected to teach in the classroom. Morgan, who’s been an educator for 20 years, previously worked as a middle school social studies teacher and said he’s spent the last five years invested in educating himself in equity in public education.
“Teachers bring their own thoughts, beliefs, and backgrounds into the classroom and clearly defined standards ensure different points of view of our history are taught,” Morgan said. “It is important in today’s global society that students are able to see themselves in the curriculum and the approach to teaching is not from one cultural perspective.”
At Chatham Middle, Morgan said, teachers are trained in Culturally Responsive Teaching, with the goal that teachers understand the importance of students’ cultural backgrounds and references in their teaching and planning. He said teaching “from a culture of power” will prevent some families from investing in the educational experience. Teachers don’t have to be experts on all cultures, he said, but should be willing to “recognize, embrace and enhance” different backgrounds.
During the state board’s Jan. 27 meeting, Truitt, Robinson and other Republican members debated the historical reality of systemic racism — wanting to make revisions to standards that explicitly used that language or referred to systemic structures of racism more widely.
Board member James Ford, who is Black and was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper, addressed other members and said there are “hundreds of years-plus legacy” of laws and policies that uphold the present systems of racism.
“That racism lives not just from person to person but lives within those systems, in those laws, in those customs, norms, practices etc.,” he said. “I just want to know if that’s truly up for debate here.”
Chatham resident Bob Pearson, chairperson of the education committee for NAACP’s Chatham Community East Branch, drafted a statement on the Friday after the meeting with N.C. NAACP President Anthony Spearman condemning Lt. Gov. Robinson’s remarks and supporting the proposed standards. In the email in which he sent the drafted statement, Pearson thanked Spearman for his support. The statement was released by the NAACP on that Saturday.
That statement said the proposed new standards are “comprehensive and fair,” and said that “instructing teachers to hide facts and to teach instead a politically driven view of history is a threat to all that makes America great.” The country is great, the statement said, but racism and injustice are also prevalent.
“Learning the truth about North Carolina’s history — the good truth and bad truth — is the only way to make good citizens of our children. It is also the only way to make our democracy work,” the statement said. “We need our children to know the truth, the whole truth. Equal justice and true freedom will come only when that full truth is told. We are strong enough to know the truth. Let our children hear it and learn it.”
Chatham Middle’s Morgan echoed this sentiment, saying it’s important that history is not “whitewashed” through the learning process.
“It is important that students understand the past, which includes the good, bad and ugly, so our students are better-informed decision-makers in the future,” he said. “All students deserve an education that is inclusive and diverse.”
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