State School Board Debates Future Social Studies Standards

The state is re-evaluating what should be taught to our students in social studies, everybody seems to have an opinion on what is appropriate.

Social studies in Michigan dive into history, geography, politics and economics. All potential hot button issues and with that, recent proposals for change to the state’s standards have been flagged for political bias.

“I’m never surprised when people say, ‘Well, why doesn’t it say this? Or why doesn’t it read this way? Why does it read that way?’” says David Johnson, social studies instructional consultant for Northern Michigan ISDs.

The State Board of Education is trying to redefine what is taught in Michigan’s social studies classes, an upgrade teachers have been looking for.

“I heard from lots of them like, ‘Man I wish the standard would change or, man, I wish we could get more clarity on this topic,’” says Johnson.

With more clarity came complaints of exclusion. Certain topics and people were left out of the newest proposed standards.

“Our goal was to try to come up with a product that is as unbiased as possible but still provides all the information that young people need to know to be good productive citizens,” says Casandra Ulbrich, the president of the State School Board.

Social studies are unique. Nobody can debate the core mathematics or science lessons in school, two plus two always equals four and water is always made of hydrogen and oxygen. But politics, history and the viewpoints used to teach them can be contentious.

“Anytime you’re talking about history, you are going to have those issues because there’s always a perspective history is being shared from,” says Ulbrich.

“Certain topics will always cause concern for some people,” says Johnson.

The standards are the outline and topics that the state says students need to learn but the details of getting that done are left vague on purpose.

“Teachers take the standards and then they create their curriculum around them,” says Ulbrich.

“The point is to say these are the topics, these are the points we are talking about in the classroom,” says Johnson, “The teachers, the students and the district fill in those blanks on the how.”

The 2019 proposal will now head for public comment and then redrafted for final approval by the board.

“I think we’re getting to a really good place,” says Ulbrich, “I think we’re close to being to the end.”