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THE VIEW FROM HERE

Will state leave room for teachers to maneuver with new standards?

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A great nation is able to teach its history honestly, celebrating its triumphs and correcting its mistakes.

That’s what the New Mexico Public Education Department is trying to accomplish with its proposed revision to the social studies standards. The 122-page plan lays out in fine detail what would be taught to students in social studies classes from kindergarten through high school.

And that’s one of my concerns. Dictating every detail from Santa Fe wouldn’t seem to leave much room for the teachers.

The revision comes at a time when school districts throughout the nation are going through the wrenching process of re-evaluating how we look at our past and its impact on who we are today.

In the 1970s, several legal scholars began writing about the role white supremacy has played in advancing the interests of white people in the U.S. over those of minorities. It was called Critical Race Theory. Today, CRT has become shorthand on the political right for any discussion about race that might make white people uncomfortable.

The state’s proposed revision is not CRT. But it does place a strong emphasis on our cultural and racial differences at every level in the process.

Kindergartners would be taught to, “describe ways they are similar and different from people who share their identities and people who do not.” Seventh-grade students would be asked to “brainstorm ways in which New Mexicans might heal from past and current injustices.”

There is also a heavy emphasis on the natural migration of people that has taken place over the centuries, and on the root causes of scarcity and poverty.

I don’t quibble with the historical accuracy of the proposed curriculum, but I worry that if not presented correctly it could focus too much on our differences and not enough on our commonalities.

The success of this new curriculum will depend on having teachers who understand their students and are able to explain complex and controversial subjects in a way that is nuanced and respectful of differing positions. I hope the PED will give teachers that freedom.

I’m always suspicious of any grand new edicts that flow from the state Capitol to the schoolhouse. We saw the dangers of that recently in neighboring Texas, when school librarians were told that a new state law required them to present opposing views to any books they may have on historical events - even the Holocaust. So, “Mein Kampf?”

Despite my misgivings, it’s clear the new curriculum would provide a comprehensive study of who we are and how we got here. Much of it would be specific to our state, heritage and culture. And, all of it is designed to encourage students to think critically about issues and be able to rationally make and support  their own decisions. And then get involved.

The plan is still just a draft at this time, and the public comment period is still open. A public hearing will be held via Zoom, from 1 to 5 p.m. on Nov. 12. Public comment will also be taken by email at rule.feedback@state.nm.us; fax at 505-827-6520 and mail at Policy Division, PED, 300 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe, 87501.

I fear that many of those commenting have not read the plan, which is available on the PED website. I encourage anyone who is concerned about what you have heard about the plan to read it for yourself first, and then add your voice to the discussion.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com.

Walt Rubel