From right, Lia Brodnax and her daughter Kathleen, Ruth Ann Peterson from Albuquerque and Suzey Gao from Albuquerque were among about 50 people who attended a rally in Santa Fe on Friday against the proposed social studies curriculum in New Mexico. The state ministry of education received more than 1,000 public comments on the proposed standards. (Eddie Moore / )
Copyright © 2021
SANTA FE – New Mexico’s plan to completely overhaul its social studies standards for the first time in 20 years has evolved from a nondescript chore to a full-fledged culture war in just a few weeks.
The debate reached a climax on Friday when state education officials held a public hearing for more than five hours following a GOP-backed rally against standards.
Critics argued that the new curriculum would bring liberal “anti-weapon” and “socialist” ideologies such as critical racial theory into classrooms nationwide, while supporters defend the proposed standards as an overdue update that reflects New Mexico’s diverse population and sometimes bloody history would.
Joe Garcia, a parent of two students attending Albuquerque public schools, stands outside the county office Friday. He supports the proposed new state social study standards and says they would ensure “modern, contemporary education” for children. (Eddie Moore / )
Joe Garcia, the father of two children who attend Albuquerque public schools, said he supported the proposed social study standards as both a parent and a citizen.
“For children to be invested in our state, they have to feel represented in our state,” Garcia said in an interview.
But Tiffany Shirley, a newly elected school board member in Carlsbad, said during the hearing on Friday that the proposed standards had caused “great concern” in her southeastern New Mexico community and asked the PED to increase the public comment deadline by an additional six Months to extend.
And Valerie Fox, a Los Alamos mother, said teaching sexual orientation to students in particular would violate parents’ religious rights.
“We need to update, but I think these updates are dangerous,” said Fox. “These are our children, not yours.”
The debate over proposed New Mexico social study standards takes place amid increasing national scrutiny of how schools convey racial conflict and inequalities in American history – and how they have shaped the nation.
Some critics of the proposed new curriculum cited recent events in Virginia where Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected governor this month after making education a central part of his campaign.
And several parents vowed that if the standards were adopted, they would remove their children from New Mexico public schools and teach them at home instead.
In total, more than 1,000 people submitted written public comments on the standards before Friday’s deadline, with those comments filling more than 1,400 pages as of Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Education said.
Undersecretary-designate for Public Education Kurt Steinhaus said this week the department will consider any feedback it receives before deciding whether to change and adopt the standards.
He also said the proposed curriculum would align the state better in response to a 2018 court ruling that found New Mexico was failing to meet its constitutional mandate to provide adequate education to all students, especially Native Americans and non-English speakers Offer.
“Ultimately, we must do what is best for the children of New Mexico,” Steinhaus said.
Meanwhile, at least some people who testified Friday cited the proposed changes as necessary in a state where Native Americans make up 12.4% of the population and Hispanic residents 47.7%, according to data from the US Census Bureau .
“This is not indoctrination, this is just inclusivity,” said Mason Graham, a member of the New Mexico Black Leadership Council.
Group identities, NM history
The new standards for social studies were developed by a group of more than 60 educators from across New Mexico who began their work in February.
If passed in the next two months, the standards would not come into force until autumn 2023.
Top PED officials said this week that teachers have more than a year to prepare and create lesson plans, although some teachers on Friday raised concerns about whether they would be given sufficient resources to implement the changes.
Following the proposed curriculum update, students starting in kindergarten would learn to “communicate a positive view of themselves and identify some of their group identities”.
Up through eighth grade, students would “investigate how and why different groups have been denied equality and opportunities, both institutionally and informally”.
The proposed curriculum would also cover the history of New Mexico, including the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the role of the state in the manufacture of uranium-fired weapons during the Cold War.
Omitted: Critical Race Theory
Much of the recent Republican-fueled opposition to social science standards in New Mexico has centered on the role of critical racial theory, an academic concept that deals with structural racism.
Some states, including Texas, have passed laws banning the teaching of Critical Racial Theory in schools and requiring the teaching of “both sides” of subjects.
During the rally in front of the Public Education Building in Santa Fe, which was attended by around 50 people, critics of the state’s proposed curriculum changes said they would lead students to learn about their differences – not their similarities.
“This is a national model for the state of New Mexico and I think it’s wrong,” said Senator David Gallegos, R-Eunice, a former school board member. “We’re not California.”
A couple of passing motorists swayed with honking and shouting, and a nearby spectator called the demonstrators “racist rubbish”.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, a former educator, defended the Public Education Department’s handling of standards, saying the department had allowed parents to contribute.
The lieutenant governor, a Democrat, also described the opposition to the new curriculum as being fueled by misinformation.
“It’s actually a smoke screen because the school system doesn’t teach critical racial theory,” Morales told the Journal.
PED Assistant Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment also insisted that critical racial theory is not included in the standards.
She said once adopted in their current form or after a revision, New Mexico school districts can decide how to create courses to teach them.
“What the standards say is historical accuracy,” she told reporters this week. “Telling the truth is vital for us as a community and for (our ability) to evolve.”