Monday, October 06, 2003

How will parents see Jim Davnie? 

Jim Davnie is a social studies teacher and a DFL state representative from Minneapolis. He goes screedy on the new social studies standards that are to replace the Profiles of (Not) Learning. We are being left out of the mainstream of education because we are adopting a conservative set of standards.
No one disputes the need for statewide standards that are rigorous and challenging. However, many of these benchmarks are not developmentally appropriate for the grade levels indicated. They also amount to a statewide curriculum, a sharp undermining of both legislative intent and the traditional Minnesota concept of local control.
First off, what is developmentally appropriate is a highly individual question. What works developmentally for my son won't work for my daughter. We are interested in outcomes, not process. We want to know what kids learn. You don't like that they learn about Annie Bidwell and not John Kennedy? Fine, fix that. But oh no, Rep. Davnie, you got bigger axes to grind.
With the release of this draft of the new social studies standards, it becomes obvious that the administration of Gov. Tim Pawlenty was guided more by politics than sound educational judgment. Within the 54-page document lies a biased and deeply conservative view of history, coupled with a libertarian view of civics and economics. Most Minnesotans will not find their values reflected there.
I've looked at the economics standards, since I know one of the members of the drafting panel, and all that's in there is market economics. That is the society you live in, Rep. Davnie, one built on free markets (which probably would be freer if voters returned Mr. Davnie to the classroom full time).

As to history, he actually says the standards would discuss the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence too much.

The standards as proposed rely heavily on the ideals contained in the seminal documents of our history for inspiration. But America's greatness comes not just from those glorious words we say, but also from the stories of her people striving, as fallible humans, to make the promise of those words real.
History as personal stories is a popular method, no doubt, and some of the great books of history I've read do so using personal stories. But the point of the personal story of striving to make the ideals of the Constitution real isn't the person. It's the ideals. As Katherine Kersten wrote last month:
Many students today have difficulty distinguishing between a celebrity and a hero. We can help them to discern that all-important difference by acquainting them with champions of democracy and inspiring them to say, "I want to be like that."

To that end, our students need to hear the heroic stories of George Washington at Valley Forge and Nathan Hale's last words. They should also hear the voices of ordinary Americans, like Union soldier Sullivan Ballou, who wrote movingly to his wife before the Battle of Bull Run about his love of country. Novels and stories are another powerful vehicle for conveying the virtues of the citizen and patriot. My own children have thrilled to Johnny Tremain, and I still remember how moved I was at reading Edward Everett Hale's "The Man Without a Country" in ninth grade.

Our task as educators is to help young people see that America is worthy of their love and to help them become worthy of their heritage as American citizens.
Or consider the counterpoint to Davnie written by high school principal Nancy Flynn:
You can look at the standards and see a long list of facts that need to be taught, or you can view them as opportunities to give children the knowledge of history in a creative, compelling manner.
Where would you like to send your child? To Davnie's school or Flynn's? Who wants goals and objectives, and who doesn't wish to have standards that make schools accountable?