It’s a well-known fact that New Mexico has one of the worst education systems in the country. The 2021 Kids Count report from New Mexico Voices for Children shows New Mexico recently ranked last among states for education. This shouldn’t be a surprise to students or their parents who feel our state’s education system is failing them.

Despite all this negativity surrounding our education system, we have a chance to fix things in our state just a bit: a set of proposed social study standards was recently introduced to the public and is being discussed to see how the state will fully implement the standards for the 2023 school year.

This is huge news, as the social studies standards in our state have not been revised since 2009. In the 12 years since these standards were last revised, our state has received a C grade in civics and a C-minus grade in United States history, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a prominent conservative think tank.

Compared to other areas of our education, these are high grades and considered “mediocre” by the Fordham Institute. A mediocre classification is nothing to be satisfied with, and it’s sad it has taken 12 years to do something to try and repair our social studies classes. New Mexico might not have the resources and money of other states, but no change can actually happen unless we put our hearts into opportunities like this.

So what exactly are these proposed social studies standards? According to the New Mexico Public Education Department, the main goal of these new standards is to do a better job addressing the increasingly diverse history and perspectives of the peoples of New Mexico. One of the many guiding principles these standards are trying to follow is to “ensure divergence from a singular Eurocentric cultural script ensuring equitable inclusion of accurate historical stories reflecting Indigenous, Hispano/Latino, Chicano, Mestizo, Genizaro, African American and other cultural perspectives.”

While there are many guiding principles, I feel this is the most important one, as it will completely change the way students in this state learn about history in a more accurate way. This alone sounds appealing to students such as myself, but these standards get much better the deeper you dive into the details. The current draft of these new standards is 122 pages, so I can’t talk about all the specific details, but I will talk about a few of the themes I believe are the most important.

The first theme students will learn about in the first grade is called “Living, Learning and Working Together.” I feel that this is one of the most important themes these new standards are introducing because it teaches students at a young age about the roles each of us play in society and how people from all different backgrounds can work and live together peacefully.

The fifth theme, which third graders will touch on, is called “Global Diversity and Identity.” I love this theme because it will teach students how to discuss personal identities in a way that doesn’t make others feel bad, and I feel it will help create more positive ideas of cultural identity in the minds of students.

The second theme of eighth grade is called “Age of Exploration and Exploitation (c. 1400 CE-c. 1500 CE.)” I feel this is one of the most important topics that needed revision. The history of this time period has been taught so incredibly wrong to students for so long. I remember first learning about Christopher Columbus in first grade, and I remember learning about him as a hero. I learned he was the first European to land on this continent and he peacefully colonized this land. I never knew about the mass genocide of the Native people until I learned about it on my own and instead believed Natives willingly let the European settlers create the New World with this land. Students deserve to know the truth about the arrival of Europeans to this continent and how awful they treated and exploited the Native people of this land. The Europeans who “discovered” this land were not heroes, and I really hope this theme will help students realize this and right the wrongs of these historical figures.

I feel these new standards are great for not just students but for our world. They will help make our society much more inclusive and knowledgeable about the history of this land. However, not everyone agrees with this sentiment. I’ve read some of the public comments for these social studies standards, and many of them were incredibly disappointing. Many of the comments were from parents complaining that these standards promote “critical race theory” and that we need to keep race conversations out of school.

I get that these parents grew up in a different time, but I find it so sad they don’t understand how racist our society truly is because of a lack of the education these proposed standards are trying to give students. Understanding history and the way groups of people have been treated throughout history will help make sure we don’t repeat mistakes. I don’t believe history repeats itself, but it does rhyme, and the only way our society will become more loving and accepting of one another is by learning about the hate that has plagued our society in the past and why hate will never be stronger than love.

I hope these standards are passed and implemented soon so we can start better educating our students and healing our society. I also hope you all read these standards and form your own opinions on them. Not everyone will agree with me, and that’s OK, but I truly believe these social studies standards are great for not just our students but for the people of this world.

Ian Hernandez-Rojas is a student at The MASTERS Program. Contact him at ianhernandezrocks@gmail.com.

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