Did the Pilgrims really make “friends” with the Wampanoags and live happily ever after? Were the first Africans who arrived in Jamestown in 1619 volunteers seeking a better life? Did the Spanish conquistadors do the Pueblo peoples a favor by subjugating them and exterminating their religion and language? Were Hispanic settlers in New Mexico happy to surrender their Land Grants so that progress could come to the Land of Enchantment? Were our great-great grandmothers who fought for women’s suffrage just malcontents? Should workers who feel mistreated just shut up and be glad they have a job?
These are a few of the issues that critics of the new NM PED Social Studies standards would love educators to candy coat, water down, or just sweep under the rug. The same angry and vocal minority who have been telling us that COVID-19 is not real, vaccines plant chips in us so we can be tracked by the government, mask mandates intrude on our “freedom”, and the 2020 presidential election was stolen are bringing their assault on culturally responsive pedagogy into our classrooms. They wish to undermine and overthrow our professional decision-making and, ultimately, our public education system.
The current uproar is akin to, and strangely the opposite of, the fervor with which the same critics pushed anti-science science standards back in 2017. Remember when Chris Ruszkowski, Education Secretary-designee under the Susana Martinez administration tried to remove the scientifically accepted age of the earth and any mention of the theory of evolution from our state’s science standards? At that time, the Martinez clique sought to strike any mention of climate change from the standards to appease Standard Oil (I’m aware there are many other players in the NM oil business, but the poetry was irresistible). Like Susana and Chris, these current voices of protest seem to be confusing the phantom notion of critical race theory (CRT) with critical thinking. And, they don’t like either one a damn bit.
According to the Las Cruces Sun:
“New Mexico officials have been inundated with critical letters on proposed K-12 social studies standards over the inclusion of racial identity and social justice themes in a majority Latino state where Indigenous tribes have persevered through war, famine, internment camps and boarding schools aimed at stamping out their cultures.”
The new standards have the audacity to guide K-12 social studies teachers to encourage students to examine their identities and use them to become involved citizens who consider how they can “take group or individual action to help address local, regional, and/or global problems.” Students will be asked to ponder “factors which resulted in unequal power relations among identity groups.”
Those who wish our students to wallow in the bliss of ignorance of real-world social problems and history insist that students’ examination of actual historical events and how one’s group identities impact power dynamics will “promote victimhood.” They say we should shy away from exploring the impacts of racism and oppression. They’d like us to forget that pesky civil rights movements and labor unions ever existed. Understanding how folks have overcome oppression, they say, will “indoctrinate” students into “divisive, leftist ideology.”
Yet opponents of culturally relevant teaching are hard-pressed to say exactly what they object to. For example, NM Representative Rebecca Dow, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, said that teaching students to “process, identify and write in a narrative way about what would make America a just place to live” would be tantamount to teaching critical race theory (CRT) in our schools. When asked to define CRT, she was unable to do so.
This is the same type of fearmongering that was used to sway the recent APS Board of Education elections this month. The narrative ran something like, if we could go back to March 2020 and stop the pandemic from occurring, tough decisions like statewide quarantine and school closings would have never been made.
Meanwhile, Native American leaders like the Tribal Education Alliance believe these standards are a positive step toward teaching culturally responsive and responsible history. These voices represent the vast majority of New Mexicans in a state that is home to at least 23 Native American nations who represent about 11% of the population. Over half the state identifies as Latinx.
Several studies have shown that courses like ethnic studies in our high schools are key to keeping kids engaged and in school. Students are not enthralled by “Great Man History” which tasks them to memorize dates and the composition of George Washington’s teeth. Our students are more interested in investigating the realities of how our country came to be what it is today: the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is inclusive, people’s history and speaks to students because they want to know what life was like for the 99% of people not represented in traditional historical textbooks.
Imagine a world where students can meet social studies standards by employing “critical consciousness and perspectives” to create “an action plan for a more just and equitable America for diverse groups of people including Native Americans and African Americans.” It’s easy to see why this would step on the toes of reactionaries who believe that it’s okay to attempt to overturn elections by storming the U.S. Capitol and whose electoral platform is built upon voter suppression.
The New Mexico Public Education Department will host an online forum on Friday, Nov. 12th, 1-5pm so that people across the state can voice their opinions on the new standards. The forum will take place on Zoom. You can join the conference at tinyurl.com/2trr3ze5, using the passcode “Policy2021.” For more information and to read the proposed standards, visit tinyurl.com/vzy3fdcv.
Educators, the PED needs to hear your voice! Do you want the freedom to teach reality, or would you rather have a false narrative dictated to you so that you can spread it like a coronavirus of baseless belief to all of those you teach? Get loud!