Date: August 5, 2003
Subject: "Look to the greatness of America"

Commisioner Yecke instructed the social studies committee last Thursday as follows. The complete text of her remarks, including instructions to the science committee, will be posted on the MDE web site, I am told by MDE staff. These remarks were largely ignored by the press in their reports of last Thursday's meeting. So you saw it here first!

As a former history teacher, I wanted to learn more about the Minnesota history standards, so again, I went to a primary source. In going through some files on the standards themselves, I came upon a fax dated October 30, 1997. It is a message from former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch. She is writing in response to a request by the Department of Children, Families and Learning to review the Minnesota history standards. She stated:

I will be candid because I don't have time to be diplomatic. In the area of social studies, the Minnesota standards are among the worst in the nation...It is especially disturbing to me that history is almost completely absent from these "standards." ...Students may well graduate knowing nothing about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, the founding documents, the Federalist Papers, the American Revolution, the abolition movement, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the New Deal, and other major events, controversies, individuals, and ideas in American history ...[I must tell you how] profoundly disappointed I am with these "standards." They are a missed opportunity to introduce youngsters to the excitement of learning. I advise you to toss them out and start over.
Members of the History and Social Studies committee - this is your task - to start over. We have an obligation to ensure that the children of this state have a firm foundation in the guiding principles of our founding documents and of the sacrifices that earlier generations made to ensure the continuance of our freedoms.

Why is this important? A survey sponsored by the Fordham Foundation, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association asked American parents to describe what they want the schools to teach about our country. This report is called A Lot to be Thankful For: What Parents Want Children to Learn About America, and it suggests a very interesting perspective about what parents want for their children. For example, 84% of parents surveyed indicted that they believe that the United States "is a unique country that stands for something special in the world" (p. 9). And 85% of the parents surveyed indicated that "to graduate from high school, students should be required to show they understand the common history and ideas that tie all Americans together" (p. 39).

To members of the History and Social Studies Committee, I ask that you look to the greatness of America as you write new standards for the children of Minnesota.