Good News, Bad News On MN Social Studies Standards

While the fight to get the Holocaust and genocide studies reinstated to the Minnesota social studies curriculum was successful, a multifaith coalition is organizing again to fix something new that was left out of the most recent second draft released late last week: All instances of specific religions.

“We’re working with our friends in the Sikh Coalition to engage the grassroots, clergy, and faith leaders to convince the MDE that they need to fix this,” said Ethan Roberts, the director of governmental affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. “We believe that an understanding of the beliefs, practices, and day-to-day lived experiences of members of the full spectrum of religions practiced in Minnesota, especially members of minority faiths such as Judaism, is essential to being an educated person.

“[The Minnesota Department of Education] did what the community asked for, but they moved backward on religion.”

Time for the community to push back is running short, and not nearly as easy to do as it was following the first draft.

When the first draft was completed in early December of 2020, there was a 5-week comment period, in which several virtual town hall meetings were held for people to comment. The expectation was that the second draft was going to be ready on Feb. 17; it was published on July 30. The comment period is only set to run until Aug. 16, with no public meetings. 

The only way to provide feedback to the Minnesota Department of Education is through the public comment survey tool on the MDE website to provide feedback on individual standards and benchmarks, and/or on the draft as a whole. Alternatively, you can send your comments via email.

An online petition has been set up for community members to sign as well.

The second draft is far more robust than the first draft was: 168 pages vs. 32 pages, which means the current document is likely much closer to the finished product

The coalition is pushing for the changes to Standard 23, and subsequently expanding the proposed benchmark for 8th grade, and create a new benchmark for 9th high school to work in concert with the revised Standard 23.

Standard 23: Develop an understanding of the ways power and language construct the social identities of race, religion, geography, ethnicity, gender etc. Apply these understandings to one’s own social identities and other groups living in Minnesota, especially those whose stories and histories have been marginalized, erased or ignored.

Below are the proposed changes and new recommendations for standards. The changes are underlined, and the numbers reference grade-level, subject matter area, and benchmark number:

Eighth Grade Describe varieties of spiritual and religious beliefs and practices in the contemporary world; including but not limited to Shamanism/Animism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam; both universalizing and non-universalizing

High School Describe and analyze examples of how religions evolve and change over time in response to differing social, historical, and political contexts including but not limited to Shamanism/Animism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Describe and analyze examples of how religions are embedded in all aspects of culture and cannot only be isolated to the “private” sphere including but not limited to Shamanism/Animism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. 

“These additional benchmarks facilitate learning about religion and religious communities from an asset-based perspective, not just a deficit one,” according to a letter written with all of the proposed changes. “For example, it is critically important for students to learn about Jews and Judaism beyond the context of being the victims of genocide.”