Teaching is my third career, if you count a brief and dismally unsuccessful foray into the world of real estate sales.
But when I finally decided my life’s calling was to be a teacher, I resolved to be a social studies teacher. I would help young people successfully participate in civic life, and assist them in grappling with important questions about what it is to be a member of a free and open society governed by the rule of law.
This was the early 1990s and teaching jobs were scarce. The college academic advisor told me I’d have a better chance getting a teaching job if I’d major in math, or special education – anything else, really.
You don’t understand, I told him. If I can’t be a social studies teacher, I don’t want to be a teacher.
I’m sharing this vignette from my past so you’ll understand my tribe. We social studies teachers are passionate about our mission. I don’t care what you remember about the football coach who taught your American history class so poorly. Times have changed.
So it is with the righteous anger of Martin Luther King, Jr. that I protest the recent proposed changes to the Michigan state standards for social studies.
If you are not familiar with this issue, there is no other way to put it: Right wing conservatives with extreme views hijacked a review of these state standards in an attempt to force their world view on all of Michigan’s children who attend public schools.
What most of us view as a welcome and much needed tolerance in a multicultural society, they see as a threat to their 1950s era nostalgia, one where straight white males reign supreme and minorities are neither seen nor heard.
Thus, they have eliminated references to gay rights, Roe vs. Wade, and even the Ku Klux Klan, among many other shocking and radical changes. God forbid our children should hear about the KKK and develop some sympathy for the plight of African-Americans in the past, and also discover how that kind of discrimination can leave behind a legacy of inequality.
Yay for willful ignorance and intellectual censorship, everybody!
There’s much more of this nonsense in these proposed changes, far more than I can even summarize here. Yet, to give you an idea of just how facile these ideas are, I’ll share this one last tidbit. They want to remove the word “democratic” – small d – from the phrase “Core Democratic Values”, a label that’s been used in Michigan’s social studies standards since I became a teacher 25 years ago.
Because it’s too partisan, if you can believe that childish line of reasoning. What’s next? No use of the word “democracy” because it looks too similar to the words Democratic Party? If that’s the case, maybe we shouldn’t use the word “republic” because it looks too much like the words Republican Party.
Senator Patrick Colbeck is the leader of this effort, and I have no doubt he did this as part of his gubernatorial campaign. This is red meat for his constituency of far right conservative extremists
But he’s messing with my tribe, people, and we are legion. We are Democrats and Republicans. We are liberals and conservatives. We are black and white, male and female, young and old, gay and straight.
We are social studies teachers.
This is about way more than some obscure document only social studies teachers see. It’s about a public statement of our values. It’s about the kind of society we want our children to aspire to.
I know there are many in our state who agree with Patrick Colbert. But I think there are many more who don’t.
Keith Kindred is a social studies teacher at South Lyon East High School. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.