Colorado students to study minority contributions in new social studies standards

Suzie Glassman

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) After months of back and forth between the seven members of the state board of education, the group voted 4-3 to add back references to African American, Latino, Asian American, Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, Indigenous Peoples, LGBTQ, and religious minorities.

Earlier this year, the board compromised with three conservative members, Steve Durham, Debora Scheffel, and Joyce Rankin, by removing specific references to minority groups, like the LGBTQ community, in favor of references to "diverse perspectives."

But widespread criticism, including a packed room of individuals wearing shirts saying "Restore the Cuts" at Thursday's board meeting, led the board's four democratic members to change their minds.

A series of students, parents, teachers and other LGBTQ advocates testified to the board about the impact of seeing themselves represented in history lessons and how this inclusion teaches them that their voices matter.

Opponents argued the new standards aren't age-appropriate and could "indoctrinate" young children. The Denver Post writes, "Rankin complained about the committee's "numerous references" to people of color and those in the LGBTQ community, writing that the list was not inclusive of other groups such as German Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans and Norwegian Americans."

Democratic board member Rebecca McClellan countered that the standards aren't about sex or sexuality but how minority groups have significantly contributed to our nation's history and governance.

Adding minority contributions to standards

The state has spent more than a year reviewing the current standards due to a 2019 bill that tasked reviewers with adding more diverse views to the state's social studies standards.

Specifically, the bill specifies that civil government lessons should include "the social contributions of American Indians, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals within these minority groups, the contributions and persecution of religious minorities, and the intersectionality of significant social and cultural features within these communities."

Another bill calls for high school students to take a course in Holocaust and genocide studies as a condition of graduation. Board members have argued over which genocides to include and whether to include the full name of the Nazi party (Nazi Socialist German Workers Party).

The board voted to add the word 'fascist' as part of the Nazi description, restore references to Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur, and add the Sand Creek Massacre.

State standards don't set curricula

Educational standards establish what students need to learn but don't dictate how educators teach their subjects. Districts are responsible for buying curricula and textbooks, which their board of education must approve.

There's often very little enforcement, especially with a subject like social studies, which isn't included in the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS).

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