Revised social studies standards remain a hot topic for State Board of Education

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson on Wednesday continued to rail against newly revised social studies standards, even as his State Board of Education colleagues searched for common ground.

The revisions have stirred controversy in recent weeks because of language Robinson said is “political in nature” and unfairly portrays America as “systematically racist.”

The state board discussed the standards Wednesday during its monthly meeting.  The board will vote on them Thursday.

Robinson said he has a petition signed by more than 27,000 people who don’t want the revisions approved. State board leaders acknowledged having received thousands of emails about the standards.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt rolled out a lengthy preamble to accompany the standards affirming that students must learn “hard truths of Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism, exploitation of child labor, and Jim Crow.”

Truitt wrote that students can also learn that the “US Constitution created the world’s first organized democracy since ancient Rome and that 90 years into our country’s history, President [Abraham] Lincoln ended the United States’ participation in what had been more than 9,000 years of legalized slavery and human bondage in most parts of the world.”

Last month, Truitt, a Republican, took issue with “explicit language” in Draft 4 revisions that addressed “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity.” Replacing them with racism, discrimination and identity would make the standards more inclusive, she said.

The board will consider the preamble as a companion to the standards when it votes Thursday, said SBE member Jill Camnitz, chair of the board’s Student Learning and Achievement Committee. The board will vote on Draft 5 revisions, which remove “systemic” from the references to racism and discrimination and “gender” from the reference to identity as Truitt requested.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis said he supports Draft 5 and the preamble.

“At the core of this preamble is the rejection of the notion that we must choose the good or the bad of our history,” Davis said. “Instead, it embraces the opportunity to choose the and, that we can teach the successes and the shortcomings of our shared past and that we can learn from both and celebrate both.”

Other Republicans on the board have been critical of the new standard’s tone. They say the revisions focus too much on America’s shortcomings while ignoring achievements and advancements.

Meanwhile, Draft 4 supporters said it’s important that students are taught multiple viewpoints about the nation’s history.

“We do believe in telling the whole truth of our country’s history and validating the identities of each and every child in our history that we teach, and that includes our LGBTQ students, our indigenous students, our Black students and other students of color,” said board advisor Matthew Bristow-Smith, a high school principal in Edgecombe County and the 2019 NC Principal of the Year.

Meanwhile, Robinson expanded his criticism of the standards to include the Black Lives Movement, which he said educators embrace despite BLM’s “inflammatory” remarks about police.

“In our public schools, we allow them [BLM] a voice,” Robinson said. “I’m the first Black lieutenant governor of North Carolina, and I was invited to speak at a school right here in this state, and there are administrators and teachers that don’t want my voice heard.”

Robinson said students are allowed to wear BLM gear to school but are kicked out for wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “Blue Lives Matter” or “Make America Great Again,” which is former President Donald Trump’s signature campaign slogan.

“Let’s not talk about inclusion until we’re ready to include everybody’s voice,” Robinson said.

As the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, and as someone who rose above a poverty-stricken upbringing, Robinson said educators should be excited about him speaking to students.

“What is it that they are afraid of these children might hear from me that would damage them; that I was poor and overcame poverty; that I believe America is the greatest nation on Earth; that if they work hard, they can do anything?” Robinson said.

He also blasted WRAL for publishing an editorial cartoon Tuesday that depicts Republican state board members as members of the Ku Klux Klan. Their opposition to the revised standards led to the cartoon.

Click here to read WRAL’s statement about the cartoon.

“When you have a television station depict a Black man and a Native American woman [SBE member Olivia Oxendine] as Klansmen, these standards are divisive,” he said.

Oxendine also addressed the cartoon, which she called “disturbing.”

She worries the cartoon will negatively impact her work as a college professor.

“I’m going to have to face my students real soon and explain this political cartoon,” said Oxendine, who is a member of the Lumbee Tribe.

She said such cartoons silence diverse voices.

“What does that say about being able to voice one’s concerns?” Oxendine asked. “It says, shut up. It says be quiet. It says if not, you may find yourself in a political cartoon that’s disseminated and shared across the state. I’m going to have to explain that to my grandchildren.”

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