Friday, November 19, 2004

Don't Look a Jesus Horse in the Mouth

As a historian, I was fascinated to read this account of a recent debate here in Minnesota over K-12 social-studies teaching standards. I didn't follow the debate too closely when it was actually occurring earlier this year, but I should have.

The acting education commissioner, a GOP operative, created a task force to develop new K-12 teaching standards for social studies, including history. Rife with "factual errors, omissions, evident biases, explicit political and cultural agenda, and its general sloppiness, inconsistencies, and incoherence," the standards were roundly criticized and, after a grassroots uprising and the assistance of the University of Minnesota history faculty, replaced with a somewhat better but still overlong set of standards that are still very much a compromise. But look at some of the lunacy they were able to undo:

  • "in a discussion of the kindergarten Civics standard describing the 'virtues of good citizens,' the subcommittee decided to omit 'sharing and cooperation' because these were too 'socialist.'"
  • "the subcommittee agreed that it would be inappropriate to teach middle school students about the economics of slavery, because the knowledge that human beings were bought and sold as merchandise might 'prejudice the students against a free market economy.'"
  • "In response to another critique noting the absence of organized labor from both the U.S. History and the Economics standards, a different committee member sputtered, 'unions! Don’t even go there!'"
  • "a seventh grade Government and Citizenship standard required students to 'recognize the significance of the Founders’ four references to God in the Declaration of Independence' because, as one committee member explained to the others, the Declaration’s description of God as the Supreme Judge, as the Creator of nature’s laws, and the provider of the protection of Divine Providence, outlined the Constitution’s separation of the federal government into the judicial, legislative, and executive branches. "

What's surprising is that this sort of fundamentalist nonsense has finally reached Minnesota, long a bastion of calm, reasoned Lutheran-Nordic public culture. Not for us the fundamentalists' misinterpretations of the Grand Canyon, which Elise discusses below. But with the history standards controversy barely over, perhaps soon we'll have to read this kind of tripe regarding, say, the Palisades along Lake Superior: "The Grand Canyon is an awesome display of God’s creation and a place to find and explore the wonders of His creation... So what kind of story do [canyon] fossils tell and why is it significant? The first and most significant issue is that fossils represent death! With our biblical glasses on, death comes into the world as the result of man’s sin against God... As you travel through the Canyon, you will at some point reach bedrock, that hard layer where you can go down no farther. Your travel through life is much the same—at some point the only way is to look up. "

I dunno about you, but I think things are looking down, down, down.