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.


Hannah Larson: Social studies standards would take state back to the '50s

Posted on Tue, Mar. 23, 2004

Warren Anderson claims that opponents of the new social studies standards are "hypocrites defending educational mediocrity" because, according to him, they believe that "facts don't count and memorization is evil" ("Taking Exception: New standards will strengthen Minnesota schools," Feb. 12).

Besides putting hyperbolic, ridiculous words into the mouths of the opponents of the standards, Anderson is also wrong in stating that opponents believe that facts don't count. Most of the standards' opponents would agree that facts are important and are the basis of critical thinking. They know, however, that fact-based standards cause an overload of names and dates to memorize, boring students and de-emphasizing critical-thinking skills, which are much more important than simple facts.

With the emphasis on knowing facts like names and dates, history classes will most likely return to a traditional lecture format where students have no chance to discuss or analyze facts and ideas. The teacher will have to cover the material in the standards quickly, making sure to include everything that is on the state tests and leaving no time for class discussion or a more detailed investigation of one topic. Students will feel no interest in these bits of information, having no knowledge of what they mean or how they relate to modern life; they will simply memorize them in order to pass the test and then forget them.

Under the new standards, real understanding of the topics may also be shortchanged. Most people would agree that understanding why Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation is more important than knowing that it was issued in 1862 and that it freed some slaves, or that understanding how Nat Turner's rebellion changed race relations in America is better than just knowing that a guy named Nat Turner led a rebellion in 1831.

Students under a fact-based curriculum will also be forced into the passive role of listening to the teacher and memorizing facts. Ironically, since one of the goals of the proponents of the standards is stopping activist teachers from "telling students that oil companies are bad" or that "Castro's Cuba is good" (in Anderson's words), there will be no time when students can think critically and develop their own ideas about a topic.

There is no reason why Minnesota should return to the failed, uninteresting, 1950s style of teaching history. The world is quickly becoming smaller. To deal with the complexities of America's position within the global community, students must have a good understanding of the social and political undercurrents within countries. The new standards not only do not ensure this, they threaten students' interest in the world and America's competitiveness in the global economy.

Larson is a sophomore at Minneapolis South High School.