Split NC board OKs new rules to teach social studies. Critics call them ‘irresponsible’

T. Keung Hui
·4 min read

North Carolina now has new social studies standards that supporters say are more inclusive of different groups but that critics claim are anti-American.

The State Board of Education voted 7-5 on Thursday to adopt new K-12 social studies standards that include language such as having teachers discuss racism, discrimination and the perspectives of marginalized groups. The standards, which begin going into effect this fall, are supposed to guide teachers in how to discuss both the nation’s accomplishments and its failings.

“I’m just supremely confident that our teachers and students can handle the truth of our history, both good and bad, and I’ll not deny them the opportunity to learn from our achievements or our shortcomings,” state board chairman Eric Davis said during Wednesday’s discussion.

“I have no doubt that they will respond with increased admiration, increased devotion and increased love for our country and for one another if first we will believe in them.”

But the new standards were opposed by the board’s Republican members who said that they’re unbalanced and present an overly negative picture of the nation’s history and institutions.

“It would be irresponsible for this board to pass them at this time,” said GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. “I know it’s going to take time to do more work, but there are enough people in this state who have questions and concerns about these standards that we need to go back to the drawing board again.”

Some Democratic members unsuccessfully tried to get an alternative version approved that kept the words “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity” in the new standards. That proposal was rejected 10-2.

Instead, the board went with the version recommended by GOP State Superintendent Catherine Truitt that instead uses racism, discrimination and identity in the standards.

Students to learn about inequity, injustice

The latest standards comes after two years of review and multiple drafts, including an earlier one that would have had third-grade students study how monuments such as Confederate statues are valued by their community.

In July, the state board voted to delay adoption to give the state Department of Public Instruction more time to ensure diversity and inclusion in the standards. Board members had cited the need to listen to the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests over the killing of Black people by white police officers.

Examples of new language presented last month include:

Eighth-grade classes would explain how the experiences and achievements of women, minorities, indigenous and marginalized groups have contributed to the development of the state and nation over time.

Civics students would interpret historical and current perspectives on the evolution of individual rights in America over time, including women, tribal, racial, religious, identity and ability.

Civics students would learn about “inequities, injustice, and discrimination within the American system of government over time.”

The standards come with a preamble written by Truitt that says students should learn about “hard truths” such as Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism and Jim Crow.

But the preamble says students should also learn how the U.S. Constitution created the world’s first organized democracy since ancient Rome and how the U.S. went on to end legalized slavery.

“Let us study the past such that all students can celebrate our achievements towards a more perfect union while acknowledging that the sins of our past still linger in the everyday lives of many,” according to the preamble. “Let us study the past so we can understand where it might lead us today.”

Later this year, DPI will present to the board additional documents guiding how the classes will be taught.

Standards fiercely debated

The standards have drawn heated debate at the state board meetings.

Republican board members say they don’t want to hide the negative parts of the nation’s history. But they say the new standards go too far and and are anti-American, anti-capitalist and anti-democracy.

Opposition to the standards led to an editorial cartoon published Tuesday by WRAL that depicts GOP state board members as KKK members, the News & Observer previously reported.

But the board’s advisers and the members appointed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper say the standards will be more relatable to students of color who now represent the majority of the state’s public school enrollment.