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Lieutenant governor rips rewrite of social studies teaching

RALEIGH — The Democrat-controlled N.C. State Board of Education on Thursday approved a sweeping rewrite of the state’s social studies standards that will now include references to racism and discrimination in teaching American history.


The changes were approved over the strong objections of several Republican board members, who lambasted the new standards as overly negative and divisive. They said they don’t wish to whitewash history, but believe it’s important to teach children to have pride in their country for its achievements and advancement.

The vote came a day after a long and heated debate over the tone of the proposed changes that left neither side happy.

“These standards are divisive, and there are still serious questions around them,” said Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican. Although supporters of the changes cited 6,000 positive emails, Robinson said that an online petition opposing them had received 28,000 signatures. In the petition, Robinson described the standards as “political in nature” and said they “paint America as being systematically racist” while undermining unity.

Board members on the left pushed for the standards to go further in moving away from traditional American history education.

“The flawless, exceptionalist characterization is well-represented in our education and has been historically,” said James Ford, a former N.C teacher of the year from Charlotte. “There’s a new America emerging that is browner, that is in many ways younger, more diverse.”

The standards outline the broad topics and themes that teachers must cover at every grade level, K-12, in North Carolina’s public schools. They’re not curriculum, and don’t dictate the specific events to be studied and books to be read. That will come later.

The new standards add a particular focus on “indigenous, religious, gender and racial groups” as early as the second grade. They also redefine racism, moving away from personal prejudice and toward a “complex system of racial hierarchies and inequities.”

The changes have been nearly two years in the making and have gone through multiple drafts. More than 7,000 people submitted comments on the proposals.

Back in July, the State Board of Education voted to delay adopting any revisions to the social studies curriculum until more work could be done.

The debate soon grew from an academic discussion into a volatile political battle. WRAL’s editorial board even took the step of portraying opponents of the changes, including Robinson, as KKK members in a controversial cartoon.

"In my press conference following the release of this cartoon I called on the board to re-evaluate these standards and delay the vote that was scheduled" on Thursday, Robinson said in a news release. "Instead, at the meeting today these standards were voted on and narrowly passed along partisan lines. Let me be clear: This is not over. I will continue to lead the fight to ensure that our students are educated, not indoctrinated.”

Over the past few weeks, board chairman Eric Davis and new State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt appeared to have been trying to find more common ground. That includes softening some of the most controversial language that had been proposed.

The adopted rewrite of the standards replaced references to “systemic racism” with just “racism” and “gender identity” to simply “identity.”

Truitt also wrote a new preamble to the social studies standards approved by the board that seeks to walk a tightrope between the two sides.

“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,” Truitt wrote. “Let us study the past so we can understand where it might lead us today.”