From left: Iowa State Board of Education President Charles Edwards and Iowa DOE Director Ryan Wise.
Photo credit: Iowa Department of Education

As I mentioned last week, the Iowa State Board of Education recently approved a new set of social studies standards. Charlie Edwards, the president of the Iowa State Board of Education, said he was “impressed with the quality of our new social studies standards, as well as the process that took place to draft, review and adopt them.”

As a reminder our current set of social studies standards are terrible, so it does not take much to improve upon them. I wrote last week:

Frankly, any effort to improve the standards had a low threshold for success as the original standards were blasted by American Principles Project in 2010 and the U.S. History standards, in particular, were given an “F” by the Fordham Institute in 2013. So Iowa’s benchmarks for social studies can go nowhere but up.

I brought up two concerns last week:

  1. Since Iowa uses the C3 Framework for State Social Studies Standards, our state department and board of education demonstrate they are still addicted to top-down, centralized standards.
  2. The new social studies standards are skill sets, not content standards. Iowa students cannot think critically unless they have something to think critically about. They put the cart before the horse focusing on these types of skills in elementary school when they should be giving students basic information.

I mentioned where I saw improvement from the current standards:

  • The new standards are better organized by grade rather than bundled with 2-3 grades which give teachers a clearer idea of what they need to focus on each year.
  • The new standards include standards for Iowa history.
  • The financial literacy standards are well written and age appropriate.
  • *New* – I neglected to mention this last week, but there are far fewer standards than with the current standards. For example, with the current standards, there are 114 standards for 3rd-5th grade banded together. With the new standards, there are 28 for 3rd grade, 26 for 4th grade, and 26 for 5th grade which is far more realistic for elementary school teachers to accomplish. Certainly organizing by grade helps, but even if you lumped 3rd-5th grade standards together it would still be 34 fewer standards, and they added Iowa History.

So onto my last concern.

3. The new social studies standards are still vulnerable to indoctrination.

American Principles Project when they did their review of the Iowa Core in 2010 said:

The History Curriculum has similar problems of relativism and openings for bias. With little discussion as to scope or basic historical literacy, it instead focuses on analysis of culture, process, and transition. Its directives to compare “minority” and “dominant” groups are a political minefield.

They also noted:

The Political Science and Civic Literacy Core Curriculum omits some key concepts and incorrectly or ambiguously describes others.

I still see some of those problems. Here are a few examples:

They state in the introduction,  “As we work to carry on the ideals of the founders, we are compelled to revisit our fundamental beliefs and institutions and to construct new social contexts and relationships.”

This statement, in my mind, communicates a view that our organic law, in particular, our Constitution is a “living and breathing” document, something that must be reinterpreted for the time we now live.

In the new standards, kindergarteners are expected to “take group or individual action to help address local, regional, and/or global problems,” (SS.K.4). Not only do I think this is developmentally inappropriate, but I shudder to think what “problems” teachers will present kindergarten students.

The next benchmark is similar, “Use deliberative and democratic procedures to make decisions about and act on civic problems in their classrooms,” (SS.K.5).

Exactly what “deliberative and democratic procedures” are you going to teach kindergarteners? What “civic problems” will you address in the classroom?

I can also see the LGBT agenda sneaking into the kindergarten classroom with another benchmark that reads, “describe ways in which students and others are alike and different within a variety of social categories,” (SS.K.7).

You see the two benchmarks mentioned above repeated in 1st and 2nd grade as well.

In first grade, you have this: “Investigate how social identities can influence students’ own and others’ thoughts and behaviors,” (SS.1.7).

Social constructs anyone?

This particular benchmark screams same-sex marriage: “Describe a situation that exemplifies democratic principles including, but not limited to, equality, freedom, liberty, respect for individual rights, and deliberation,” (SS.1.9).

I’m sure there won’t be any discussion about the judicial activism or the like.

In first and second grade you see this gem, “Determine if a source is primary or secondary and distinguish whether it is mostly fact or opinion,” (SS.1.3 & SS.2.3).

Whose facts? I’ve seen liberals consider their opinions “fact.” (To be fair, I’ve seen conservatives do the same.

Will a fact be labeled an opinion in the classroom? For instance, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

The Founders believed when signing the Declaration of Independence that this is a fact. After all, it is “self-evident.” I can see some twenty-something second grade teacher fresh out of liberal indoctrination U teaching this is an opinion.

While I think this is an important skill I just have little faith that it will be implemented properly in the public school system, especially with students this young.

Also, watch out! Third graders on the hunt for fake news: “Determine the credibility of one source,” (SS.3.3).

Fourth graders will tackle this standard: “Evaluate how civic virtues and democratic principles have guided or do guide governments, societies, and/or communities,” (SS.4.8).

I can only imagine what will be considered civic virtues and democratic principles.

This standard could be implemented well in the classroom, but it could go sideways in a hurry depending on who is teaching (which I admit impacts all of the standards).

Fifth graders pick up the hunt for “fake news”: “Determine the credibility of multiple sources,” (SS.5.3).

I have no problem with how SS.5.20 reads, but I can just imagine the conversation about illegal immigration.  The standard reads, “analyze how rules and laws encourage or restrict human population movements to and within the United States of America.”

In sixth graders continue the “fake news” hunt. This time with “teacher direction”: “with teacher direction, evaluate the credibility of primary and secondary sources by determining their relevance and intended use,” (SS.6.4).

In seventh grade (probably before, but it isn’t in the standards) students are taught they are global citizens. “Distinguish and apply the powers and responsibilities of global citizens, interest groups and the media in a variety of governmental and nongovernmental contexts,” (SS.7.15).

There is no such thing as a “global citizen. ”

I should mention this is taught before students discuss what it means to be a U.S. citizen. (They learn that in 8th grade – SS.8.13.)

SS.8.24 reads: “Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, Washington’s Farewell address, the Louisiana Purchase treaty, Monroe Doctrine, Indian Removal Act, Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott v. Sanford, and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.”

So eighth graders are going to critique the Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence? What could go wrong there?

The potential minefields in the psychology and sociology tracks of the 9-12 Behavioral Sciences standards are too numerous to mention.

Looking at the 9-12 Civics and Government standards one standard jumps out.

“Evaluate the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions, how they interact and the role of government in maintaining order,” (SS-Gov.9-12.13).

My primary problem with this standard is the use of the word “national” as opposed to “federal.” We have a federal government. We do not have a national government. “Federalism” is mentioned in SS-Gov.9-12.17. I can not overlook the fact they use the word national to describe the U.S. government. So I have to wonder how a high school government teacher will explain federalism? Will students be taught that we have a dual-sovereign system?

In U.S. History they have a standard dedicated to gender roles.

“Evaluate the impact of gender roles on economic, political, and social life in the U.S.,” (SS-US.9-12.14).

Seriously?

I have to note that “capitalism” isn’t mentioned in the 9-12 economics standards, but mentioned under the U.S. History standards (SS-US.9-12.16). Also, immigration has another standard (SS-US.9-12.17) dedicated to it and I’m doubtful there will be unbiased discussion based on what I see in public education.

Then, why is Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and Civil Rights era are focused on, but not events leading up to the Revolutionary War? (SS-US.9-12.13)

Also the documents I see highlighted for U.S. History. I understand the standard is not meant to be exhaustive.  It reads: “Critique primary and secondary sources of information with attention to the source of the document, its context, accuracy, and usefulness such as the Reconstruction amendments, Emancipation Proclamation, Treaty of Fort Laramie, Chinese Exclusion Act, Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Wilson’s Fourteen Points, New Deal Program Acts, Roosevelt’s Declaration of War, Executive Order 9066, Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech, Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Brown vs. Board of Education decision, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and the Voting Act of 1965,” (SS-US.9-12.24).

Federalist Papers? Common Sense? Any of Ben Franklin’s writings?

The standards do not mention the War for Independence at all in SS-US.9-12.26 (or anywhere). A focus on how ethnic, racial, and gender perspectives influenced history, (SS-US.9-12.25) is not a surprise. The writers of the standards baked in a diminished focus on our founders and the events that led to our country’s founding.

The 9-12 World History standards are weak and incredibly vague. They also mention global citizenship in the description of the standards which annoys me to no end.

“These are the skills required not only for college and career success, but for effective global citizenship.”

I am going to wrap it up here, but suffice to say this is not meant to be exhaustive.

Comparing the new standards to the current standards I have to admit there is improvement, but they are not the quality Iowa students could have and that is unfortunate.

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