NC school board OKs controversial social studies standards

Table of Contents Students to learn about inequity, injusticeStandards fiercely debatedSystemic racism language questionedRelated stories from Raleigh News & Observer Black Lives Matter demonstrators on horseback prepare to ride through downtown Raleigh Friday, June 19, 2020 in recognition of Juneteenth. Travis Long [email protected] North Carolina now has new social studies […]

Black Lives Matter demonstrators on horseback prepare to ride through downtown Raleigh Friday, June 19, 2020 in recognition of Juneteenth.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators on horseback prepare to ride through downtown Raleigh Friday, June 19, 2020 in recognition of Juneteenth.

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

The State Board of Education’s Democratic majority 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.

“Our children of this great state deserve nothing but the true, honest and best education that we can provide,” board member Donna Tipton-Rogers said during Wednesday’s discussion. “As I said earlier, history is the study of change, and by adopting these new social studies standards, we are embracing the essence of what makes the study of history useful and our nation great. To include racism, identity and discrimination is what we should do.”

But the board’s Republican members opposed the new standards and said they are anti-American, anti-capitalist and anti-democratic.

GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson pointed Thursday to an online petition with more than 30,000 signatures calling for the board to not approve the new standards

“Moving forward with this is irresponsible,” Robinson, who is Black, said at the meeting. “We need to go back to the drawing board.”

Some Democratic members unsuccessfully tried Thursday to get the words “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity” included in the new 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 GOP State Superintendent Catherine 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 present an overly negative picture of the nation’s history and institutions.

“The standards do not explore and examine and raise to the right elevation the progress that this country has made past the Civil Rights era, past the adoption of the 14th and 15th Amendments,” board member Olivia Oxendine said Wednesday.

In a statement released after Thursday’s vote, Robinson called the standards “leftist indoctrination.”

“Let me be clear,” Robinson said in the statement. “This is not over. I will continue to lead the fight to ensure that our students are educated, not indoctrinated.”

Opposition to the standards led to an editorial cartoon this week that depicts GOP state board members as KKK members, The News & Observer previously reported. The cartoon appeared on the CBC Opinion page of, which is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Co.

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.

Systemic racism language questioned

The Draft 4 standards presented in January included using the terms “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity.” Amid the GOP concerns, Truitt recommended instead using the terms racism, discrimination and identity in the standards.

But groups such as the Public School Forum of North Carolina and Equality NC urged the board to adopt Draft 4 to keep in systemic discrimination, systemic racism and discrimination.

“To adopt standards that do not reflect our whole history and the multitude of experiences of our increasingly diverse student population, which is now more than 50 percent students of color, would be a disservice to all students and would be detrimental to efforts to build a more equitable society,” Mary Ann Wolf, president of the Public School Forum, said in a statement Thursday.

Board member James Ford said Truitt’s version was better than what had been presented last summer but not as good as the Draft 4 version. His motion to use the Draft 4 standards was defeated 10-2, with only him and Reginald Kenan voting for that version.

“The necessity of making the effort to teach unpopular history is self evident,” said Ford, who is Black and a former high school social studies teacher. “It requires us breaking out of both the gender binary and the racial binary.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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