September 15, 2018

I'm Not Smarter Than a Michigan First Grader

I was going through some stacks of reading (a trend I've noticed, lately) and came upon a tiny blurb in the 'Only in America' section of The Week, a magazine that compiles US and international media reports. 

Here's what I saw that caught my eye:
Conservative lawmakers have stripped Michigan's social studies curriculum of any reference to civil rights, climate change, or "core democratic values." State Sen. Patrick Colbeck said these phrases are "not politically neutral."  Other referenced removed include Roe v. Wade, the NAACP, and gay rights. Students will be taught that "the expansion of rights for some groups can be viewed as an infringement of rights and freedoms of others."
Now, as the daughter of a social studies teacher (and a straight A student throughout my elementary and secondary educational career in that particular subject), you can probably imagine why this one was intriguing.

My dad was a creative social studies teacher back in the day, working to get kids thinking about his favorite subject not as a standalone thing, but as something connected to the world we live in. He also tried to have fun; I distinctly remember his trivia questions (pre-Internet, folks) and having to get the answers right myself so I could grade those while he read the essays he was famous for assigning. One question I was sure he had to have made up was the one about a river catching on fire (Cuyahoga River, 1969). I also remember shortened summer vacations, as he frequently was involved in negotiations and also curriculum development - stuff like they're doing around the country these days.

Anyway -- back to the Michiganders and their abolishment of the facts, or whatever it is they're trying to do. What they're trying to do is what many red states have tried to do: take back their curriculum from the liberals. This happens when there's a flip in the balance of power from D to R, from L to R, as it were.

Texas almost let students and dinosaurs walk to school together. Florida let any citizen challenge the curriculum, including statements that the United States is a democracy; it's a constitutional republic, in Florida and too, Michigan. You can read more about that in this article from the Washington Post back in 2015, which concludes after a detailed argument,
But there is no basis for saying that the United States is somehow "not a democracy but a republic." "Democracy" and "republic" aren't just words that a speaker can arbitrarily define to mean something (e.g., defining democracy as "a form of government in which all laws are made directly by the people"). They are terms that have been given meaning by English speakers more broadly. And both today and in the Framing era, "democracy" has been generally understood to include representative democracy as well as direct democracy.
I'm sure that settles nothing, right?

So - Michigan has slowed the process considerably on the modifications, which you can read for yourself  - all 142 pages of it. The documents outline the entire social studies education plan from K-12. I haven't yet read the whole thing but what I did read scares the crap out of me.

Why? Because, to be honest, I'm not going to be able to pass first grade.

Seriously.

 Assuming the edits get approved in their entirety, here's what I'm supposed to know at the age of 6. Under the goal of 'Understand the core values and principles of our unique form of democracy, called a constitutional republic' I should be able to:
Explain fair ways to make decisions and resolve conflicts in the school community. 
The example provided for that first one is majority rule. Which wouldn't have meant all that much to me at that age. I mean, if my brothers and I all wanted to stay up past our bedtime, that would have meant 100% of the children wanted to do the same thing; not only that, but the three of us outnumbered the two parents - so what's am I supposed to be learning here, again?

Next, I should be able to:
Identify and explain how important symbols of the United States of America represent core values.  
And here are the examples of important symbols: Statue of Liberty, Uncle Sam, White House, Bald Eagle. OK, those I can handle, I think. I could probably even color pictures of them, with the right crayons.

The core values? This where it gets fun:
  • equality 
  • rule of law 
  • unalienable rights 
  • limited government 
  • social compact theory, and 
  • the right of the people to alter or abolish an oppressive government
Limited government? Social compact theory? Altering or abolishing an oppressive government?  Come on! I'm SIX!

I get told when to get up, what to eat, what to wear (or perhaps, what not to wear would be more accurate), and when to go to bed. I have no unalienable rights, my 'government' is my mom and dad, and my rights to alter or abolish them is nonexistent.

I'm not going to get out of first grade, I swear.