What students learn in public schools should undergo thoughtful change as time passes. That’s why standards are updated. It’s a process happening right now in New Mexico with the curriculum used to teach social studies.
But what should be a relatively smooth process for modernizing content in an important subject area has become the latest educational tempest.
A push to add diversity and depth to social studies classes — which teach young people about their history and their government — has provoked outrage in some locales throughout the country. There’s no mystery to this so-called controversy: Some have a vested interest in keeping the pot stirred, and social studies standards are the place to get people worked up as agitators claim public schools will be teaching critical race theory.
Never mind that not 1 in 100 people actually can define critical race theory — a concept developed for advanced classes in graduate school and not K-12 classrooms.
What irks critics of new social studies standards is they may frame U.S. history as it actually happened. This nation’s past is not always mom and apple pie. Its government has at times enacted racist laws, enslaved Blacks, stolen land from Native tribes, and built systems that for many years, and perhaps even today, favored whites.
That’s simply history. That’s simply fact. We are a complex nation with an inspiring past — and yet, one that has seen its share of difficulties we have yet to fully resolve. Addressing that reality in a forthright manner will help create a better future.
That is not teaching critical race theory. That is education.
Starting in July 2020, educators from across New Mexico began meeting to look at how history was being taught and what updates needed to be included. They reviewed current social studies curriculum as well as best practices from the classroom, eventually writing the revised standards.
The standards cover such classes as social studies in K-12, as well as high school classes in civics, geography, economics, New Mexico history, world history, U.S. history and ethnic studies.
There’s a lot to absorb. Now the public can begin speaking out, whether sending comments via email, a letter or by attending the public hearing Nov. 12 in Santa Fe.
Before the noise gets too loud, learn what is in the standards. There’s a campaign to oppose them already in play; the Republican Party has sent emails claiming the standards “are nothing less than implementing revisionist history into New Mexico schools.”
That’s not what we read in the 122-page document. We particularly like the emphasis on critical thinking throughout the standards, teaching how to distinguish between fact and opinion, and encouraging children to ask questions and form conclusions. Those skills are necessary to keep democracy functioning.
In other states, discussions over how social studies should be taught have devolved into ugly confrontations that are unwelcome in New Mexico.
We can do better. Read the standards, speak up for the teaching of history, suggest changes — but do not allow extremists to dilute the teaching of history for the children of New Mexico.