Date: January 28, 2004
Subject: House Education Policy Committee Hearing, Part II

Here is the second installment of my notes on the January 27 meeting.

Peggy Smith, Minnesota PTA, said that the standards are “unacceptable,” claimed that the standards would result in “civic disengagement,” there is too much content, and diversity is missing. Rep. Wardlow said that he agreed with Smith’s and others’ assertion that not enough public school teachers were included in the process – until he discussed the concern with teachers in his House district. He concluded that the process was sound, and has in fact taken into account the legitimate concerns of teachers.

Tiphanie Copeland, public high school student, humbly and sincerely delivered perhaps the most insolent comments of the day. Although it was awkward, everyone seemed to chalk it up to youthful indiscretion. After co-witness Alexandra (no last name given) made an appeal to include people of color in the standards, Copeland proceeded to call Commissioner Yecke and the entire Academic Standards Committee “ignorant,” citing David Buller’s earlier use of the term “oriental (Asian, please)” and criticizing the use of the term “African slaves” instead of “enslaved Africans” in the standards. She also promised that the voters will “hold you [the Legislature] accountable” for the academic achievement of Minneapolis public school students. (Memo to the Legislature: please add Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People somewhere in the Examples column!)

Rep. Davnie led the witness by recalling the night of the public hearing at Saint Paul Central High School, during which a racial census was taken of the Academic Standards Committee in attendance. Rep. Davnie asked Copeland what she thought of the statement by a committee member who identified himself as a person of color: “pink with brown spots.” The committee member in question, Colin Wilkinson, was seated in the line of sight of Rep. Davnie, and rose to comment. Wilkinson said that his comment that night was a joke, directed to Rep. Davnie personally, to point out that skin pigmentation is a ridiculous and irrelevant criterion for members of the committee. Wilkinson said we should judge each other not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Rep. Sykora and Rep. Carlson praised and thanked Copeland and Alexandra for their testimonies.

James Tracy, professor of history at the University of Minnesota, presented his letter and the letter circulated by English professor Daniel Ritchie of Bethel College in support of the standards.

King Banian, economics professor at Saint Cloud State University, provided a lively testimony in favor of the standards in general and economics education specifically. “Just as we economists believe that students understand history and social science better with greater economic literacy,” wrote Banian in his prepared remarks, “so too should we admit that students who understand history, mathematics, English and the rest of the social science spectrum will be more economically literate. I therefore not just support the economics portion of these standards but the entire content-rich benchmarks laid out in all the areas of these standards.”

Mark Western, a social studies teacher at Hayfield High School, supported the standards cheerfully and enthusiastically, proudly citing his membership in Education Minnesota. “For the past decade,” he said, “teachers have been pulling their hair out and saying to the state, ‘Don’t tell us how to teach, we are professionals. Tell us what to teach and we will do our job.’ These proposed standards do just that.”