Racial updates offered to NM program ridiculed

SANTA FE – New Mexico officials have been inundated with letters critical of proposed Kindergarten to Grade 12 social studies standards on the inclusion of themes of racial identity and social justice in a state to Hispanic plurality where indigenous tribes persevered through war, famine, internment camps and boarding schools aimed at eradicating their cultures.

If approved, the standards would require students starting in Kindergarten to “identify some of their group identities” and “take group or individual action to help resolve local, regional and / or global issues.”

In high school, students would examine “the factors that led to unequal power relations between identity groups.”

Roman Catholic pastor Vincent Paul Chavez, right, of St. Therese of Albuquerque School and Parish, protests proposed scientific standards on behalf of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe before a public hearing in Santa Fe on the 16th October 2017 (Morgan Lee / Associated Press)

Critics, including some Hispanics, say the standards promote victimhood, while supporters hailed the standards as “fairer and anti-racist.”

The proposed standards in New Mexico represent a new frontier in the conflict over “critical race theory” – an academic concept increasingly used by conservative activists as a catch-all term for the study of systemic racism, historical oppression or progressive social activism.

The mandate-focused political organization has been credited with influencing voters in some states to elect Republican governors, with mixed results in other local elections across the country on November 1.

Teachers in New Mexico already face the challenge of explaining the region’s history and its changing social structures. The state is a patchwork of 23 federally recognized Native American nations, tribes and pueblos.

Almost half of the state is Latin, and about 10% of New Mexico’s students are Native Americans, many of whom trace their heritage back to the pre-Columbian and 16th-century Spanish conquistadors.

Tensions around this story erupted last year when a group of mostly white activists destroyed a historic monument commemorating Union soldiers who fought against Confederate soldiers and indigenous peoples. The obelisk stood on the land reference point appropriated by the Spanish settlers.

The standards proposed by the New Mexico Department of Public Education aim to make civics, history, and geography more inclusive of the state’s diverse population so that students feel comfortable in program and are prepared for a state in which the majority of the population is made up of minorities. They add requirements for students to learn more details about Indigenous life, including more distinct Indigenous cultures.

Meteorologist David Craft, foreground right, from Albuquerque criticizes the state’s proposed science standards at a public hearing in Santa Fe on October 16, 2017. The proposed standards for New Mexico public schools did the subject of strong criticism for omitting or removing references to global warming, the evolution and age of the Earth. (Morgan Lee / Associated press)

Some studies have shown that high school ethnic studies programs can increase school attendance and graduation rates. And a lawsuit in New Mexico seeks to pressure the state’s Department of Public Education to adopt education that students find relevant to their culture and language.

The department also wants to update the history portion of the social studies curriculum, which has not changed for three decades. Learning sections on offer include the 9/11 attacks and the LGBTQ rights movement.

But many educators are concerned about the size and scope of the updates being offered.

They said the science standards updated in 2017 were based on an existing program that has been used in other states for years. Teachers and administrators also say they have been inundated with work to return to school amid the pandemic.

“I feel like it’s rushed, and I don’t know why,” said Kevin Summers, superintendent of the Aztec Municipal School District in northwestern New Mexico. “Can we go back? Can we just get six more months?

Republican state officials have tried to tap into the nation’s education controversy. But a Republican effort last spring to recruit school board members on a critical racing platform has not taken off.

State education officials originally scheduled an in-person public forum on November 12 for supporters and opponents to share their views on the proposed standards. But the location has been changed to Zoom.

This will deprive Republicans of a physical space to rally. State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce said a “reckless political decision to remove the public comment period is as dangerous as the proposal itself.”

The education department in response said all public comments on the proposed rule changes have been virtual since the start of the pandemic and have extended the duration of the Zoom session by several hours.

“We are in a pandemic, so overcrowding in an indoor setting could be dangerous,” Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said.

The proposed changes represent the biggest curriculum controversy the Education Department has faced since its efforts to update science standards in 2017, under the administration of Republican Governor Susana Martinez.

A crowded public hearing is held in Santa Fe on a proposed overhaul of New Mexico state science standards for public schools on October 16, 2017. New Mexico officials receive a flood of letters critical of the proposed standards in Social Studies in Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools. the inclusion of themes of racial identity and social justice in a Hispanic plurality state where two dozen indigenous tribes persevered through war, famine, internment camps and boarding schools meant to eradicate their cultures.

What New Mexico children learn in school is often determined less by legislation and more by the business rule-making process by education officials, which includes public comment, responses, and feedback. possible incorporation of comments.

It’s one of the agency’s most powerful powers, according to the education secretary who led the 2017 science standards.

Christopher Ruszkowski, Martinez’s Education Secretary, said changes in public education do not usually happen under legislation but are put in place by the Department of Education, and “90% of the ‘policy making happens at the rules level ”.

Public comments led to major changes in the science standards proposed by the agency, he said, which had watered down the science to appease the anti-science constituents after the initial feedback sessions.

The education department has suppressed the Earth’s real age and human evolution, which contradict some interpretations of the Bible, and struck explicit references to climate change unpopular in the oil-producing regions of southeastern Canada. New Mexico.

Ruszkowski said he allowed changes to a draft proposal, even though he did not personally support them.

This generated a reaction from scientists in letters, newspaper advertisements and a packed house for the public comment forum.

Ultimately, the agency fully implemented the original scientific standards.

During the process of developing science standards prior to their writing, sessions were held with members of the public to gather their comments. But the education department failed to do so this time around, instead inviting 64 people – mostly teachers and administrators – to write the standards privately over the summer.

The project was released on September 28, and the education department wants students to learn using the new curriculum next year.

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