Michigan is set to strike references to climate change, LGBTQ rights, and abortion from the state’s school social studies curriculum. The changes, driven by conservative forces within the state legislature, also downplay the role of a famed national civil rights organization in historical events and eliminate the word “democratic” from “core democratic values.”
Draft changes to Michigan’s K-12 curriculum have met with backlash from teachers and education advocates, who say the state’s school curriculum is receiving a conservative twist. The revisions to the curriculum, last updated in 2007, stem from a 21-person focus group including Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck (Canton), who is currently a gubernatorial candidate.
While Michigan teachers are permitted to teach subjects not outlined in the curriculum, the new draft strikes references to human-driven global warming, the historic abortion Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, same-sex marriage, and the extent of the roles of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in civil rights history. The draft reportedly allots the civil rights group and the hate group one mention each.
A 14-member group of experts have spent four years on the revisions but turned to the 21-person focus group for additional input. Along with other conservatives, gubernatorial candidate Colbeck is said to have pushed the group to make the proposed changes, arguing that the existing curriculum is not politically neutral enough.
Colbeck reportedly invited other conservative figures to weigh in, without inviting any progressives. At least five of the original 21 focus group members are known for their conservative politics.
In his original statement arguing in favor of the alterations, Colbeck appeared to argue that the KKK was not a white supremacist organization but rather an “anti-Republican organization”. (The KKK is a white supremacist organization.)
He has also claimed that other legislators “promote Islam to the exclusion of any other religion” and “promote LGBT rights to the exclusion of religious conscience”. According to Bridge Magazine, the new proposal will instead teach “how the expansion of rights for some groups can be viewed as an infringement of rights and freedoms of others”.
While it is unclear to what extent Colbeck influenced the removal of abortion and NAACP references, the Detroit Free Press noted that the lawmaker was behind the other revisions, including the references to climate change.
According to notes sent to the school board, Colbeck argued that climate change is not “settled science” and recommends deleting all references to the phenomenon.
The notes include comments submitted by Colbeck claiming that “the persistent promotion of Global Warming and Global Climate Change theories as fact has created an alarmist atmosphere in our classrooms” which has caused “an increasingly large number of our students to pursue studies and careers in meteorology and environmental sciences despite the relative lack of job opportunities in these fields when compared with other pursuits.”
Colbeck is also reportedly behind the slashing of the word “democratic” from “core democratic values”, in addition to altering references to the United States as a constitutional democracy, instead describing the country as a constitutional republic.
“Some believed that even using the word ‘democratic’ implied partisan leanings,” social studies consultant Rebecca Baker-Bush, who served on the committee, told Bridge. “That was a new one on me.”
Around 65 people attended a meeting at the Saginaw Intermediate School District on Tuesday night to protest the revisions, according to Bridge. Prior events have drawn smaller crowds elsewhere in the state, but growing media coverage has spurred larger meetings in addition to outcry from lawmakers. A number of Democrats have blasted the proposed revisions, which they argue represent a warped view of history.
“Our students deserve to learn a frank account of our nation’s complex history, including our successes and failures,” State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown) said, according to the Detroit News. “Politicizing this process and rewriting history to fit a partisan agenda only hurts our students by leaving them unprepared to understand and navigate the complicated world we live in.”
Democrats on the state board have said they will push back on the draft’s proposed changes. A petition on the platform change.org calling on the board to reject the draft had gained 4,342 signatures as of publishing time Wednesday morning, with an ultimate goal of 5,000.
“It is crucial that the children of Michigan receive a comprehensive, accurate and inclusive picture of our history and heritage as a state and as a nation. The proposed revisions endanger that goal,” the petition reads. “The proposal attempts to not only rewrite standards, but rewrite history. If approved, the standards would do lasting damage to our state, by undermining the historical ground on which we stand.”
Michigan’s State Board of Education will hold a series of “listen and learn” sessions across the state on the draft revisions. Final revisions are expected in August and the comment period is set to close June 30. Officials have said feedback from the comment period will be incorporated.
Efforts to reshape school curricula on topics like climate change is somewhat common across the United States, especially in more conservative areas. After Idaho lawmakers removed climate science from the state’s public school agenda earlier this year for the second year in a row, a group of science teachers banded together to send schools climate-friendly resources. A study published earlier this year also found that less than 4 percent of the pages in most introductory textbooks devoted to sciences like biology between 2013 and 2015 were devoted to climate change.