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"National Experts" Review of the Minnesota Social Studies Standards

"National Expert" Erich Martel
High School Social Studies Teacher in Washington, DC

The citizens committee draft of the social studies standards were reviewed by "national experts." We think it important for the public to know the philosophy of the so-called "experts," since changes are being made to the standards based on their suggestions, overruling the judgment of the citizens committee.

Martel identifies the following 1st grade benchmark as a "historical error":

Why is that in error? Martel says:

In that statement, Martel throws out unalienable rights, self-evident truth and national sovereignty as being merely symbolic statements. Does this man represent Minnesota citizens? No, he does not.

Is Erich Martel a person who Minnesota should be consulting as an expert? Is this what the critics of the citizens standards want when they say Minnesota's standards should be more "mainstream?"

Here's another "historical error," according to Martel: 5th grade --The proposed standards say, "Students will understand key principles in the Declaration … with emphasis on human equality and natural rights, and national sovereignty."

Why does Martel consider that a historical error? Martel wants Minnesota to eliminate that benchmark because the Declaration is "first and foremost a propaganda document." (p. 28)

Another 5th grade standard that Martel calls a "historical error: is: "The student will understand that the Constitution forms a national government guided by the Declaration's principles..."

Martel responds that the Constitution "was guided only in small part by the Declaration." In other words, the Declaration is insignificant to the Constitution.

What did the founders of our country say about the Declaration of Independence and it's role in establishing our nation?

John Quincy Adams, in 1789 said the Constitution was "infused" with "those abstract principles which had been first proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence – namely, the self-evident truths of the natural and unalienable rights of man…and the sovereignty of the people…This was the platform upon which the Constitution of the United States had been erected.”

Who do we believe -- Erich Martel or John Quincy Adams?

Calvin Coolidge in 1926 stated: "It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history."

Coolidge went on to say:

Who are we to believe, Erich Martel or Calvin Coolidge?

Is it any surprise that the critics of the "citizen's committee standards" identify Martel as a "conservative" because he was critical of Minnesota's Profile of Learning. He criticized the Profile for being constructivist and for eliminating separate subject areas, among other things. He believes in knowledge-based learning.

While a number of his suggestions could improve the standards, we question the new process as the citizens committee is being overruled.

Martel's Criticisms Include:
HE means Historical Error:

1. Kindergarten
HE -- The proposed standards say, "…Identify the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as America's founding documents that outline rights and duties."-

Martel's comments:
The Declaration is only symbolically a founding document, since it proclaimed independence. It has no legal status and establishes no rights or duties.

2. Grade 2
HE --The proposed standards say, "Decl of Ind … sets forth guiding principles for the government of our nation and declares that individuals have rights …"

Martel's comments:
Will curriculum documents make clear to all teachers that the "guiding principles of the Decl of Ind are only symbolic guiding principles? If not, this should be deleted.

3. Grade 3
Behavioral Expectation -- The proposed standards say, "character traits of George Washington & Abraham Lincoln … in order to understand why each has been so widely respected over time."

Martel's comments:
Delete: There is so much history that can be taught about GW & AL, the challenges each faced, etc. That is how children learn the lessons of the past and learn how to evaluate important historical figures like these two. It is historically inaccurate, because their historical significance is based on their actual performance in the face of the challenges they face, not on "character traits." [My comments: can't they be called character traits?]

The entire Government and Citizenship standards for grades K-3 need to be replaced. These items should be rewritten by someone familiar with the history of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Piety is a personal matter and a behavior, not to be forced on children. It violates the legislature's prohibition against tests that measure " students’ values, attitudes and beliefs." Any child penalized for not meeting that requirement or refusing to would have legal grounds for a lawsuit. [My comments: Teaching virtues such as honesty, courage, patriotism, individual responsibility, respect, kindness, self-control, cooperation, sharing and good manners are off-limits, but values such as the "earth is our mother" are allowed?]

4. Grade 5:
Confusing -- The proposed standards say, "Students will know why the U.S. developed the Constitution."

Martel's comments:
It is more important for students to know the debates and compromises that led to the final document. [My comments: In other words, our founding principles are only symbolic, and insert controversy in wherever possible.]

5. Grade 5:
HE --The proposed standards say, "Students will understand key principles in the Decl … with emphasis on human equality and natural rights, and national sovereignty."

Martel's comments:
The Declaration of Ind was primarily a document aimed at unifying colonists against GB, convincing potential allies (France, Spain, Holland) that this was a complete break with GB, and seeking to divide the opposition in GB. It was first and foremost a propaganda document that fulfilled a specific need - to justify the cause and gain support.

The principle of "equality" is equally important, especially because its words, which many memorized (!!) in the 19 th Century, became an ideal that stood in contradiction to inequality and could be invoked by Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to dramatize the injustice of slavery & women's inequality. Even Ho Chi Minh invoked them in Viet Nam's declaration of independence from France in 1946!

6. Grade 5:
HE -- The proposed standards say, "Const forms a national government guided by the Declaration's principles."

Martel's comments:
Incorrect: It was guided only in small part by the Decl. Does the writer know why Patrick Henry said that he thought he "smelled a rat?"

7. Grade 5:
HE -- The proposed standards say, "…the Civil War re-formed a national government guided by the Declaration's principles."

Martel's comments:

The government was not "re-formed". The result of the war was the abolition of slavery. But that was soon followed by Jim Crow segregation and legal denial of equality.

Grade 9-12:
HE & Personal Opinion The proposed standards say, --Examples: "strict constructionism vs. judicial activism"

Martel's comments:
The traditional opposite term to "strict constructionism" is "loose constructionism" It is a neutral and descriptive term; whereas, "judicial activism" is a politicized one.

The following is an excerpt from my review of the Government and Citizenship standards in the first draft (emphasis in original):

"The Government and Citizenship Draft Standards, evaluated on pp. 18- 23, are embarrassing, poorly written, misinformed and factionally motivated. They should be discarded and replaced. The Department of Education should find writers who understand the historical role and meaning of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the how it has evolved over time. This section of the draft social studies standards was more and more shocking as I read on. It is an ideological and behavioral document, just like the Profile Of Learning."

As a result of the revisions in the second draft, the ideological and behavioral wording referred to above was significantly lessened, but is still present, especially in the Government & Citizenship standards, primarily around two topics: The Declaration of Independence and the effort to instill patriotism. In my review of the first draft, I quoted from an article in the Fall 2003 issue of "EducationNext" by Dartmouth professor of government James B. Murphy. His cautionary advice against attempting to create "citizenship standards" should be carefully considered by those who feel that their vision of civic responsibility is inadequately represented.

"Civics Education: The "Tug of War" by James B. Murphy

"'A fierce debate over civic education in America’s public schools has erupted in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Broadly speaking, liberal approaches to civic education have emphasized the need to resist jingoism and to explore why America induces such hatred in certain parts of the world. By contrast, conservative responses to 9/11 have emphasized our national virtues and the need to defend them in times of danger. Conservatives tend to caricature liberal civics lessons as the toleration of the intolerable, while liberals often criticize conservative civics lessons as a knee-jerk brand of patriotism. … My view, briefly stated, is that the attempt to inculcate civic values in our schools is at best ineffective and often undermines the intrinsic moral purpose of schooling' (Murphy, 70).

"According to two studies he cites, 'civics courses have some small effect on students’ knowledge but virtually none on attitudes' (Murphy, 72). "He concludes, '[E]ven if we could all agree about the proper civic virtues, the very attempt to inculcate them undermines the integrity of the academic curriculum. The quest for truth is quickly subordinated to civic uplift when teachers see their role as fostering certain civic dispositions in their students'" (Murphy, 72) Education Next


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