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Professors Support Academic Standards for History and Social Studies

January 21, 2004

Following is the complete letter from the Social Studies Professors, released at a press conference yesterday, in support of Minnesota's proposed academic standards. The momentum is building in support of the proposed standards.

According to the Star Tribune:
"It used to be easier to find a slide rule in a math class than an educator who likes the new state social studies standards.

"Not anymore. Professors from three Minnesota colleges and universities announced Tuesday that they support the proposed standards, and what's more, they have on two separate letters the signatures of 47 other Minnesota professors who support the standards, too. The signatures include those of professors from such institutions as St. Olaf College, Bethel College, Macalester College, St. Cloud State University and the University of Minnesota." startribune.com

Let your voice be heard. Tell your legislators and the Governor: Accept the Proposed Social Studies Standards as they are. (See our alert: edwatch.org

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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" (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

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