Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

1/21/2004

Updated Title 2-4-04: These people may have read the standards, but do not show their understanding of the implications

Previously named: These people obviously have not read the Standards

A Letter in Support of the Academic Standards for History and Social
Studies from Minnesota Professors of History, Economics, and
Geography

January 20, 2004

As professors of History, Economics, and Geography at Minnesota
colleges and universities, we believe that the "Minnesota Academic
Standards for History and Social Studies" (http://education.state.mn.
us) represent a major step forward for K-12 students.

In our experience, too many high school graduates lack the basic
grasp of human institutions and of the physical world that ought to be
presumed for college-level courses. We continually meet students
who have no clue when the Renaissance was, or do not know what
the word `monarchy' means, or cannot tell, on a map of the world,
which country is France and which is China. Instead of showing
how things are more complicated than is commonly thought, we
first have to explain what is commonly thought. Some of the reasons
why young people "don't know much about his-to-ry," as the song
says, lie beyond the reach of educators. But part of the problem
stems from a curricular philosophy that makes Social Studies a
field unto itself, with history and geography coming into play only
insofar as they supply materials for discussing contemporary issues.

For the new Minnesota Standards, by contrast, Social Studies
means the four specific fields of knowledge for which the Legislature
has mandated standards: History, Geography, Civics and Government,
and Economics. Schooling does indeed prepare students to be
citizens, but the best preparation is broad-based, not issue-specific;
students who have a sense of who and where they are in the world ­
a template of human time and space ­ have a framework for
accommodating new questions, and making their own judgments.

The first draft, completed by the Citizens Committee in September,
was intended as a work in progress. Some readers found it too
detailed, too prescriptive, politically biased, or Eurocentric. The
revised Standards, issued on Dec. 19, show that the Committee
has taken these and other comments as opportunities for
improvement. The number of "Standards" has been reduced by 10%,
and the number of Benchmarks by 36%. To give teachers flexibility,
specific names and places have been shifted from the "Benchmarks"
column to a new "Examples" column.

For History, there is a new Standard on writing research papers; the
US history section features new material on Native American history,
and instances of political imbalance have been corrected. In World
history there is less on Europe, making room for at least a basic
coverage of other world civilizations. For Geography, the year long
course in Grade 8 provides a synthetic view of the world, and the year
long course to be offered in High School is designed to enable
students to develop sophisticated understandings of how they as individuals and
members of groups are connected to places near and far.

No set of Standards can be letter-perfect, and signers of this letter
reserve the right to comment individually on specific points. Subject
to such adjustment, the Standards are in our judgment a reasonable
approximation of what K-12 students ought to be learning in these
areas, and we recommend their approval by the Legislature.

If approved, the Standards will take effect in 2004/5, or possibly
2005/6. Since the legislature has required the commissioner not to
develop an assessment for the social studies standards, there will
be time to begin implementation without the pressure of statewide
tests.

Teachers will have to develop new curricula in some areas, while
showing students how "facts" are not so boring after all; many will
want opportunities for re-training, possibly testing the limits of
federal and state funds earmarked for teacher development. Also, colleges
and universities will likely have to create new offerings to meet the
needs of teachers. Just as colleges and universities joined with the
K-12 system to develop the now discarded social studies curriculum,
we must work together to turn the proverbial oil tanker around,
creating a new and better curriculum in the four specific fields.

Our goal, to be achieved over time, is preparing Minnesota students
for citizenship in a country and a world that will be theirs longer
than
ours.

Signatures

Bernard S. Bachrach, History, University of Minnesota
King Banaian, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Walter W. Benjamin, History (Emeritus), Hamline University
Steven Blake, History, St. Olaf College
Chuck Chalberg, History, Normandale Community College
Gary Marvin Davison, historian of Taiwan
Mary E. Edwards, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Daniel R. Fairchild, Economics, St. Thomas University
Caesar E. Farah, History, University of Minnesota
Daniel J. Gallagher, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Richard F. Gleisner, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Nathan E. Hampton, Economics, St. Cloud State University
John Fraser Hart, Geography, University of Minnesota
Scott Freundschuh, Geography, University of Minnesota-Duluth
John J. Hickey, Geography, Inver Hills Community College
David O. Kieft, History (Emeritus), University of Minnesota
Marie Seong-Hak Kim, History, St. Cloud State University
Nancy Koester, Church History, Luther Seminary
Bill McGuire, Political Science, Normandale Community College
Kenneth C. Rebeck, Economics, St. Cloud State University
Paul Solon, History, Macalester College
Theofanis G. Stavrou, History, University of Minnesota
Walter Sundberg, Church History, Luther Seminary
James D. Tracy, History, University of Minnesota