Michigan Department of Education meeting held on curriculum change

Grand Rapids residents packed the Kent County Intermediate School District to hear, and give feedback, about controversial changes proposed to the state's social studies curriculum.

The proposed changes would eliminate the term climate change. It would also change the way gay rights and topics like abortion are covered in the classroom. Esther Turner, a retired public school teacher, said, "Our foundation should be based on true history." Several teachers and families were upset over proposed changes being considered as part of a revision of the pre-k through 12th grade school social studies standards in Michigan. The standards were adopted in 2007.

Active and retired teacher, parents and residents packed into the Kent County Intermediate School District offices with a critical ear. The throng hoped to learn the rationale behind some of the proposed changes to the state's social studies curriculum. Shirley Miles, a retired public school teacher, said, "I'm a purist and I believe that history should not be sanitized. We should tell it like it is."

Miles and Turner worry about cutting down the number of references to the NAACP and removing the word "democratic" from the phrase "core democratic values" in the classroom can be harmful to students. Turner said, "If you know where you have come from, that's going to help dictate to where you go."

Many here feel the changes are politically motivated, with a conservative bent. Cathy Pratt, a Walker resident, said, "If they want to change the implied bias of what they're teaching then we should add more from the other side, not take away from one side."

Others feel removing any references to the history of gay rights, climate change, or the abortion debate erases a history that is too valuable to be tampered with. Evan Wilson, a Walker resident, said, "Those are really important things and they've helped make living here as good as it is and they're things that are incredibly important and we need to keep in there."

The Michigan Board of Education representatives said Thursday that while some politicians were involved in decided what revisions went into the current draft, there were many educators and members of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds also taking part.

The current draft proposal isn't permanent and the sessions are more than just informational, they're an attempt by the state to gather feedback. That feedback will be combined with the work done by committees and focus groups to decide how the final revision will look. There is an online survey that is also collecting comments from the public.

Linda Forward, a representative of the Michigan Department of Education, said, "I've seen across the state about what people believe in and what people want and interest in education above and beyond what I've seen in most of my career and so I'm delighted to have this input. It doesn't hurt us at all. It's democracy in action."


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