State Board of Education OKs new social study standards; Lt. Governor calls it ‘irresponsible’

Mark Robinson

Catherine Truitt

Divided panel approves compromise version advanced by new GOP superintendent

The State Board of Education narrowly approved the state’s new K-12 social studies standards Thursday in a 7-5 vote largely split along party lines. 

As expected, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson voted against the standards, which he contends are “political in nature” and “unfairly portray America as “systematically racist.” 

Robinson, a Black Republican from Guilford County, has been critical of the new standards that would require diverse voices and viewpoints in social studies and history classes. 

For whatever reason, there are many, many North Carolinians who were unaware of these standards, said Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor. 

He noted that 7,000 people responded to a survey about the standards and that 85% of them approved of them 

But in four days, Robinson, who has a large social media following, said more than 30,000 state residents signed an online petition he started in opposition to the new standards. 

“They have serious concerns about them,” he said. “We are aware of that now. Moving forward with this is irresponsible. We need to go back to the drawing board.”  

Fellow Republicans Olivia Oxendine, Amy White, Todd Chasteen and State Treasurer Dale Folwell joined Robinson in voting against the standards. 

The seven, mostly Democratic board members who voted in favor of them gave a nod to the Draft 5 revisions favored by State Superintendent Catherine Truitt who “refined” them to remove the words “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity.  

The phrases were replaced with “racism,” “discrimination” and “identity” to make them more inclusive, Truitt said last month. 

James Ford

SBE member James Ford offered a substitute motion in favor of Draft 4, which included the phrases as originally written but it failed on a 10-2 vote.  

Robinson voted against both drafts. 

Meanwhile, Ford said Draft 5 revisions are an improvement compared to Draft 3 revisions presented to the board in June. 

However, they still miss the mark, he said. 

I still disagree with the refinement of the terms,” Ford said. “I do have a better appreciation for why the adjustment in the terminology was made and I think the discussion around that was fruitful, even if I disagree with the fundamental premise of the move.” 

Ford voted in favor of Draft 5 after his substitute motion failed. 

He said he found “useful” a preamble introduced by Truitt on Wednesday that was also approved and will serve as a companion to the new standards. 

“I think it serves a purpose, and the definitions included in the glossary and supporting documents are good as well,” Ford said. 

Truitt’s preamble, a peace offering of sorts in the wake of her request to remove systemic racism, systemic discrimination and gender identity from the standards, affirms that students must learn “hard truths of Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism, exploitation of child labor, and Jim Crow.”

But echoing the sentiments of Republican colleagues who expressed concern about the standards focusing too much on the nation’s sins such as slavery, 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.” 

The standards sparked controversy beyond the partisan discussions about their merits. 

WRAL published a controversial cartoon that depicts Republicans on the state board as Ku Klux Klansmen because of their opposition to the new standards. 

WRAL posted this statement about the cartoon on its website: 

Editorial cartoons are creative and provocative, using hyperbole and satire. No one believes Republicans on the State Board of Education are members of the Ku Klux Klan. The editorial cartoon by Dennis Draughon is meant to point out that these members of the State Board are trying to wipe out from the social studies curriculum the record of racism which includes the Klan and the segregationist practices that were imposed in our state and nation’s history.” 

Folwell mentioned the cartoon Thursday in his remarks. 

“I appreciate the tweet or post regarding the condemnation of this depiction of me and others on this board,” he said.”I personally do not think it went far enough and we will be dealing with that, I presume, at some later point.”   

The removal of the word “systemic” from the phrasessystemic racism” and “systemic discrimination” touched a nerve for some who saw it as an attempt by board conservatives to deny or dismiss the existence of systemic racism and systemic discrimination. 

Those concerns intensified last week after Robinson cited the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, then again in 2012, and his own election in November, as evidence that systemic racism doesn’t exist.  

“The system of government that we have in this nation is not systemically racist,” Robinson said. “In fact, it is not racist at all.” 

His remarks were quickly condemned by Black Democrats and civil rights organizations. 

“His sentiments fly in the face of the continued inequities people of color face every day in our society,” said Bobbie Richardson, a veteran educator and first vice chair of the NC Democratic Party. “As many have said before me, if we do not remember our history, we are bound to repeat it. Teaching our children the painful past of our country is a necessary and important step in the fight for racial equality and creating that more perfect union we strive to be.” 

The state NAACP said Robinson’s statements were “outrageous” and “politically motivated.” 

The venerable civil rights organization said it’s important that children learn the truth about history, both the good and the bad. 

“Instructing teachers to hide facts and to teach instead a politically driven view of history is a threat to all that makes America great,” the NAACP said. 

The Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity at the Public School Forum of NC, released a statement strongly supporting Draft 4 of the revised social studies standards. 

The statement said the new standards should include the terms “systemic racism,” “gender identity,” and “systemic discrimination.”  

To adopt standards that do not reflect our whole history and the multitude of experiences of our increasingly diverse student population, which is now more than 50 percent students of color, would be a disservice to all students and would be detrimental to efforts to build a more equitable society,” the statement said. 

Equality NC, the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy group, said the removal of systemic racism, systemic discrimination and gender identity is an attempt to erase marginalized communities. Historically, institutions, including education, have erased histories of marginalized groups, namely Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ histories,” Equality NC said in a statement. These erasures have a lived impact on our communities both from a policy perspective and within our day-today-lives. Students deserve to have access to textbooks and curriculum which reflect their identities and truths, and North Carolina should be equipping students with the tools to understand the very real history of oppression and disenfranchisement in this country. 

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