Date: September 16, 2003
Subject: Deconstructing Davnie

Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Minneapolis) fired the opening shots at the draft standards last week, in the newspapers and on TPT's Almanac television program:
We seem to have gone from five pages of standards to fifty-four pages of standards, which I think is going to suck a lot of the life, a lot of the air out of the social studies classrooms, as teachers go for the inch deep, mile-wide approach that is mandated here. But more importantly, I think they've substituted their political judgement for educational judgement in a lot of the standards.
As Commissioner Yecke responded on the same Almanac show, the standards released last week are a draft, as Rep. Davnie is well aware, which will be edited down in response to public comment. And here we go with the disparagement of factual knowledge (more on that later).
For instance, there's three references in the standards to Ronald Reagan, none to John F. Kennedy. There seems to be a persistent theme of a very conservative political slant to the standards. On the middle school level, the civics and world history standards were all written by one man, a man who's on the board of a very controversial and conservative political think tank in California. And the committee was never allowed to sit around the table, review his work, come to consensus.
As anyone who was there could tell you, all we did was sit around the table and work toward consensus. Just who exactly is the alleged mastermind of the 6-8 World History and 6-8 Government & Civics strands??
Instead of having a distinct history class and a distinct geography class, we're going to a mushy, generic social studies class that is poorly based on standards that focus more on "When was the War of 1812?" and "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" than the inspiring stories of American History. We lose students, we lose good quality teaching when we turn history into memorizing dates, facts, places, and events, and not connecting with the grand stories.
The inference that facts and "stories" are mutually exclusive is a false premise. There is nothing in the new standards that mandates teaching methods (that was The Profile of Learning, remember?). School districts and teachers are free, under the new standards, to use an integrated or non-integrated approach. Nothing in the new standards prohibit "the grand stories" of American History. The disparagement of facts and knowledge is a tactic, ironically of education elites, that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, and leaves us with a generation of high school graduates who can't tell Jay Leno when the War of 1812 was.
The standards are going to take away a great deal of local control and not allow teachers to connect current events with historical antecedents.
This tactic is called "The Fear Factor."
I think what the Commissioner needs to do is bring the committee back together, look at those people who placed their political ideology over their educational judgement, replace those people with parents, teachers, administrators, and others who are going to build on the strengths of Minnesota's educational system.
Fear Factor II. Rep. Davnie is trying to paint the 80+ members of the science and social studies committees as a homogeneous select group with exclusive control over the content of the standards. No, that is how the previous Commissioner created the Profile of Learning, remember? A review of the committee members will reveal a diversity of backgrounds, and fourteen public hearings plus a public web site will allow for ample public comment. With a process so exposed to the light of public scrutiny, no one — including the Commissioner, including thank God the Legislature — has exclusive control over Minnesota's academic standards.

Davnie's three-part strategy is tried and true: fear, uncertainty, and doubt, with a few straw men thrown in for good measure. But what's the end game? If supporters of the Academic Standards process, committee members and non-committee members, are silent, we're headed for the preservation of the Profile of Learning, which will not be completely repealed until the new standards are adopted by the Legislature.

I'm all in favor of partisan political debate, but let's declare a moratorium until the Legislature's in session. In the meantime, let's work on drafting nation-leading academic standards in science and social studies — regardless of our political stripes.