This is a guest blog post written by Brandon Raymo, a lifelong resident of Southwest Minnesota. He grew up in Madison, MN, graduated from Lac qui Parle Valley High School and then pursued a degree in history from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, MN. Brandon graduated from SMSU with a degree in history and a license to teach 5-12 social studies. While in his first years of teaching social studies at Yellow Medicine East in Granite Falls, he went to Minnesota State Mankato and graduated with a Master’s degree in Educational Technology. Brandon is currently employed as the Assistant Director of the Minnesota River Valley Education District in Montevideo, where he resides with his family; wife Katie, children Adelyn, Gretta, and Eli. Brandon is also a volunteer firefighter on the Montevideo Fire Department and serves as the Vice Director of American Legion Baseball in Minnesota. In his spare time he coaches baseball, hunts, and spends time with family and friends at the lake.
The views below are those of the author and in no way reflective of the views of his employer or any other organizations.
For any social studies teacher, or teacher in general, the past few months have been a gold-mine of material! You wake up every day with something new and exciting to talk about with your class. Every day has provided us an opportunity to teach a lesson in civics, history, economics, and even geography. It could be about learning how the election process works, impeachment history, the economics of a stimulus bill, or the Electoral College geography puzzle. I would give anything to be back in my social studies classroom teaching these very important topics as we live them.
As depressing as the divisiveness in our nation is, it is also providing us with an opportunity to teach some very powerful lessons to our students. This divisiveness has also allowed us to reflect and further our own understanding of the world around us. Sometimes these lessons are hard to swallow, or very difficult to teach to students. Moreover, the conversations we have with our families or colleagues over these divisive topics can be very difficult. Regardless of which side of the aisle we fall into politically, or side of a topic we agree with, we must always respect one another.
As a former member of the MN social studies standards review committee, I have continually been reminded of a couple very important lessons. The first being respect, or at the very least, tolerance for one another. As I read through the public comments from draft 1 of the social studies standards, it became apparent that Minnesotans are passionate about social studies education. It warms my heart to see such passion over a content area I love so much. But, what makes my heart ache is the number of people who resort to name-calling and personal threats.
One can get insight into the public comments by simply searching on Twitter or Facebook about news articles associated with draft 1 of the standards. Read through the hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of comments. It won’t take too many comments to realize that this country needs a lesson on respectful civil discourse. Civil discourse is healthy for talking and debating over any topic. However, productive dialogue cannot occur without both parties being respectful of one another. Name-calling and threats will automatically put one party into a defensive position. Conversations cannot be productive if one party is constantly trying to defend themselves. We cannot approach our conversations with the idea that I am right and you are wrong. Instead, we need to come to the conversation with a mindset of, “I have ideas and you have ideas, let’s put these ideas together to create something we both can agree upon”.
Draft 1 of the standards is based on the C3 Framework (College, Career, and Civic ready). The catch 22 to all this uproar is that the people providing feedback, critical feedback, or threatening feedback, are doing exactly what is being called for in the new standards according to the C3 Framework. Within the framework, it calls for people to develop claims and take informed action. However, many of the people providing the threatening feedback may need a lesson in developing claims based upon credible evidence and then taking informed action. Many of these people have developed claims based upon reading one article or hearsay and their choice of action was providing public comments, however, ill informed.
The second important lesson that has been a great reminder for me and would be an awesome teaching tool for my students is the ability to be critical consumers of the media. I lost count of the number of people who have come to me, clearly upset over draft 1 of the standards. My initial response to all of them is to stop, take a breath, and brush off the knee-jerk reaction to reading one article. As hard as any writer tries, there is bias in every article. Some writers will cherry pick “facts” that further their argument regardless of the context. Some writers will be defensive and try to refute the facts, regardless of the context. Some will try to provide more context to clear things up. We can’t fall into the trap of reading one article, believing it to be completely factual, and then reacting. Part of being a critical consumer of the media is the ability to recognize bias and take in multiple perspectives and formulate your own opinion. I often use the example of my students writing research papers. I wouldn’t allow my students to formulate their opinion based upon one source.
On the issue of the social studies standards, regardless how you feel about them, please hear all sides, do your own research, and ask your own questions. Many people that come to me, who are shocked about the changes to the standards, have typically read a couple articles. The first article being an opinion piece in the Star Tribune from Katherine Kersten titled, Woke Revolution Looms for Minnesota Schools. The second being MN Social Studies Standards are Under Revision: Here are top 5 areas of concern written by Catrin Wigfall and published by The Center of the American Experiment.
Now, if I had read only one of these articles and didn’t have any other information, I too would be upset. However, as mentioned, in order to be a critical consumer of the media, we need to be able to recognize bias and take in multiple perspectives to formulate our own opinions. We then can direct our attention to another opinion piece in the Star Tribune titled, Counterpoint: Why the shift in social studies standards is needed, by Aaliyah Hodge, member of the MN social studies standards review committee.
We need to read everything with an open mind. Bring in as many perspectives as possible and formulate our own opinion or ask further questions. Even our Minnesota Senators have fallen into this trap of reading one source and believing it to be factual. Senator Dahms released a video outlining his concerns over the standards. However, as you will see in Mark Westpfahl’s Twitter thread, had Senator Dahms been more informed on the topic, his video could have had a different message. The video by Senator Dahms is a knee-jerk reaction to one source and he is spreading misinformation and fueling the flames of divisiveness.
Instead of providing a knee-jerk reaction to draft 1 of the standards, maybe we need to be asking more clarifying questions?
- Why are so many aspects of history not included in draft 1?
- Mark Westpfahl offered an excellent explanation of this in his Twitter thread on the topic.
- What is the C3 Framework & why was it chosen as the base document for draft 1?
- How can I become more informed about the process of standard review?
- What opportunities will I have to participate in the process?
- If I don’t agree with something, what means of appropriate civil discourse do I have?
As a former member of the committee, I can assure you that more specificity is coming in draft 2. In the introduction it specifically states on page 2 that more specificity is coming, along with everything Mark Westpfahl states in his Twitter thread. I urge everyone to become informed about the topic before jumping to conclusions. Read through the whole draft, take-in multiple viewpoints with an open mind, and ask your own questions. Then formulate your own opinion and decide on informed action if needed.
I close with a story. I have a 4-year old son, Eli. We were home for a couple days during the 2nd impeachment trial. Eli was putting a puzzle together while I watched the coverage of the trial. The House Managers were showing video of the insurrection at the Capitol. The violence, screaming, chanting, etc… that had ensued. My 4 year old looks at me and asks, “Dad, this isn’t real, is it?” I got choked up trying to answer him in a way he will hopefully understand. After fumbling my way through what I felt was an appropriate answer, he looks at me and says, “Dad, we shouldn’t act like that if we don’t get our way, right?” If a 4 year old can understand respectful civil discourse, I have faith that our country/state/communities can as well.