Judge rules against MNGOP legislators, says new social studies standards are "reasonable"

Woodard (left) and Daudt don't believe the state's new standards reflect "what Minnesotans expect our students to learn." A judge disagrees.
Woodard (left) and Daudt don't believe the state's new standards reflect "what Minnesotans expect our students to learn." A judge disagrees.

An administrative law judge has ruled that despite the MNGOP's worries, the state's new social studies standards won't turn Minnesota's youth into a bunch of jihadists after all.

In her ruling, Judge Barbara Nelson called the new standards "needed and reasonable," adding that "It is inevitable that there will be disagreement between people about the content that should be included in academic standards, particularly where, as here, the subject matter involves such controversial topics as economics, history, government, and 'human' geography."

THE BACKSTORY: MNGOP leaders want Dayton to veto insufficiently patriotic social studies standards

Judge Nelson was asked to weigh in on the matter after a group of conservatives, including House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Assistant Minority Leader Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, wrote a letter to Governor Dayton complaining that the Department of Education's new social studies standards make "virtually no mention of the values of American patriotism."

"There is no mention of Osama Bin Laden, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the global war on terrorism, or even the events of Sept. 11, 2001," Daudt and Woodard wrote in their December letter.

But Judge Nelson countered that the Department of Education is "legally entitled to make choices between possible approaches so long as its choice is rational." And the department's new standards meet that criteria, she ruled.

The Star Tribune details some of the specific complaints conservatives had about the new standards, which were developed via consultations with experts and public meetings:

[C]ritics complained the standards do not describe citizens' rights as "God-given." The department responded that this is a religious belief and not widely accepted in the social studies community. The argument over "American exceptionalism" followed many of the same contours, with conservatives contending the standards downplay America's strengths, while the department argued that students must learn of America's struggles as well as its strengths. The critics found persistent "liberal bias" throughout, but the department said it relied on research, not interpretations of religious texts.

The judge noted the department's response that the standards "provide a positive portrayal of America" while also asking students to study "the battles that have been won to provide greater political, economic and social equality."

Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch, told the Strib her group is considering an appeal to Judge Nelson's ruling, signaling she won't rest until Minnesota's social studies curriculum portrays America as the harmonious and God-created land she imagines it to be.

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