Opinion: North Carolina's Proposed Social Studies Standards are Truly Patriotic

Updated: Feb 5

As the North Carolina School Board’s discussion of Social Studies standards has garnered a great deal of attention, I wanted to take a moment and comment as a former student of North Carolina schools who is now a public school educator.

First, I applaud the thoroughness of the Department of Public Instruction and the great lengths they have gone through to ensure all stakeholders' voices have been heard.

Second, I wanted to outline the argument that seems to be most concerning to various members of the school board. Looking primarily at the US History and Civic Literacy standards, it’s been stated that some of the proposed language paints America as “the land of the oppressor rather than the land of opportunity.”

In these proposed standards, I find many opportunities to demonstrate America as a land of opportunity and I’m surprised that there are members of the board who don’t agree. We all know that one can not have a well justified argument without acknowledging the perspectives of others, particularly those who may disagree. So it’s no surprise to me that the teaching objective, “Compare strategies used by individuals to address discrimination, segregation, disenfranchisement, reconcentration, and other discriminatory practices that have existed in the United States” is balanced by, “Assess how effective the American system of government has been in ensuring freedom, equality, and justice for all” (CL.C&G.3.2 and CL.C&G.4.4 respectively). I am further impressed by the standard: “Critique the extent to which women, indigenous, religious, racial, gender identity, and ability groups have had access to justice as established in the founding principles of government” (CL.C&G.4.6 ). The only way that an investigation of this standard could paint as America as the oppressor is if “access to justice” were denied to women, indigenous, religious, racial, gender identity, and ability groups. If we are confident that America is, indeed, the land of opportunity then we should be confident that this investigation will result in students concluding that these groups are provided appropriate access to justice. And finally, the investigation that would result from researching the objective, “Exemplify ways individuals have demonstrated resistance and resilience to inequities, injustice, and systemic discrimination within the American system of government over time” is easily balanced by the preceding standard, “Explain how the experiences and achievements of minorities and marginalized peoples have contributed to the protection of individual rights and ‘equality and justice for all’ over time.” Surely this will show that our republic and constitution have created a governmental system that can evolve over time, which is something to be proud of (CL.H.1.5 and CL.H.1.6)!

I often hear students call their teachers racist because the teacher is white but the student is not. Students often don’t know what this term means, and if it’s not clearly stated that educators must teach these terms, many teachers will simply shy away from these teachable moments for fear of “getting it wrong.” It isn't sufficient to say that a set of "standards don't prevent the teaching of terms," and it's not likely that teachers can teach terminology without addressing the topic those words represent. This sort of instruction must be done deliberately as part of a structured academically sound curriculum. It is part of how we improve civic literacy for all citizens and it's something our students deserve.

On a more personal note, I appreciate the fact that DPI and the board of education are taking an academic approach to public concerns. Such an approach means that students aren’t relying solely on the media to educate them on these difficult topics and swaying them into opinions that may result in a misunderstanding of terms or motives. I have a feeling that if your perspective on this discussion is largely shaped by social media or certain news outlets, you may feel that this language is divisive, but I hope that you will be objective in your approach as you review standards and instructional material.

Marginalized groups need to be represented in our curriculum, and teachers (most of whom are white) need to be confident that they have the tools necessary to teach on these topics without fear of reproach, lawsuit, or termination. I appreciate the foundation I received in Charlotte public schools, but avoiding difficult subjects can too easily be interpreted as “glossing over” important subjects our students are concerned with. I hope you’ll accept the most recent draft and move forward through the unpacking materials with objective lenses in as much as possible.

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