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NC Board Of Education Set To Vote On New Social Studies Standards

A group of third graders in a classroom at Marvin B. Smith Elementary School in Burlington work on literacy exercises. They must prove they can read on grade level before being fully promoted to fourth grade.
Lisa Philip

The State Board of Education is set to vote Thursday on what’s become a politically controversial set of standards for social studies in K-12 public schools.

It all started last month when the new Republican State Superintendent Catherine Truitt decided to amend the state education department's recommendations for the standards. That included changing phrases that required mention of "systemic racism" to just "racism" and “systemic discrimination” to just “discrimination.” Along with changing reference from “gender identity” to “identity.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, some Republican board members made clear they still don't support the standards. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson took issue with the idea that the standards were "inclusive" and said conservative voices like his are being silenced. He said that students were permitted to wear clothes supporting Black Lives Matter but were not allowed to publicly support Blue Lives Matter, for example. 

As proof, he cited a political cartoon recently published by Capitol Broadcasting Co. which owns WRAL. The cartoon depicted Republican board members who pushed for the changes to the education department’s recommendations as members of the Ku Klux Klan. 

But Robinson also questioned whether school clubs that support the Black lives matter movement, like one at Durham Public Schools, should be allowed to exist.

Board members James Ford took issue with the premise that more inclusive standards would silence anyone’s voice. 

“The notion that if you don’t blindly gush with unquestioning adoration for your nation then you are un-American, un-Democratic, or teaching hate — these are extremist positions and only seize the poles on each end of that debate without respect for the complexity or nuance,” Ford said.

Truitt and Board Chair Eric Davis read some of the many letters they’ve been sent with opinions on the standards. They presented a united front in a bid to get enough board members to vote in favor of the current plan.

Truitt read from a statement she wrote to preview the standards. She said the standards taught to North Carolinians must reflect the totality of the nation's diversity.

"This means teaching the hard truths of: Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism, exploitation of child labor, and Jim Crow, to name a few,” Truitt said. “While simultaneously teaching that the U.S. Constitution created the world’s first organized democracy since Ancient Rome, and that 90 years into our country’s history President Lincoln ended the United States’ participation in what had been more than 9,000 years of legalized slavery and human bondage in nearly every corner of the world.”

The board will vote on the proposal tomorrow, it's unclear whether the current standards will pass with the required majority.

Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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