At the height of this past summer’s protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, North Carolina State Board of Education chairman Eric Davis opened the board’s June meeting by saying Floyd’s name. Davis paused, then acknowledged that “anything less further supports the comfortable silence which surrounds and upholds the systemic practices which continue to plague our nation and state.”
Chairman Davis went on to say that addressing racism would take “intentional, determined, relentless commitment and work from all, especially those of us who are white and in positions of power and leadership.”
The following month, the board voted to delay implementation of new social studies standards, directing the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to focus more on teaching the hard truths of history. The new standards would continue to be refined, then adopted in spring of 2021 for use in the 2021-22 school year.
In September, the board adopted an equity resolution which reads, in part, “We have an imperative duty to construct educational systems that eradicate racism,” and that “the State Board will provide resources such that students see themselves reflected in the curriculum to support culturally affirming environments in schools.” (Board members Olivia Oxendine, Amy White, and Todd Chasteen voted against the resolution.)
In November, Catherine Truitt was elected state superintendent. She took over on January 1.
On January 6, the board reviewed the latest draft (Draft 4) of the social studies standards. Truitt asked the board for time to meet with DPI staff to discuss potential revisions. Chairman Davis agreed to hold a special meeting in January to review any changes ahead of a vote on the standards in February. Standards must be approved in February because of revision guidelines outlined in state law.
Strikingly, the same day Truitt asked for additional time to make revisions to the North Carolina social studies standards, a mob of white supremacist insurrectionists assaulted the US Capitol in a deadly coup attempt before being escorted gently out of the building by law enforcement in an unmistakable display of the systemic inequity that Chairman Davis referenced in June.
The special meeting was held this week, on January 27. At the meeting, DPI’s Social Studies Section Chief Dr. Lori Carlin reported that a public survey on Draft 4 of the standards had received 85% favorable responses.
She then announced DPI’s recommendation that the following changes in terminology be made:
At Superintendent Truitt’s direction, DPI’s latest proposal removes the word “systemic” from the terms “systemic racism” and “systemic discrimination,” and turns “gender identity” into simply “identity” in the standards.
So, for example, an American History learning objective which previously read “Explain how systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination of indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups have impacted equality and power in America” now reads “Explain how racism, oppression, and discrimination of indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups have impacted equality and power in America,” with the only change being the removal of the word “systemic.”
When asked by board member James Ford about why the revision was made, Truitt explained, “I think systemic racism does not imply that certain laws or policies are racist, systemic racism indicates that our entire system of government and our constitution, as it is written and has been amended, are racist.”
Board members Amy White and Todd Chasteen also indicated their discomfort with an overly critical view of United States history. White asked “Do these standards fall under the framework and the basic understanding that the United States of America and North Carolina is a great nation and a great state?” Chasteen said he felt the standards included too much negativity and needed to focus more on “advancements and progress.”
Ford said the input of the 85% of stakeholders who approved of Draft 4 needed to be respected and that the revised language was too vague, adding “Our job here is not to rescue America from constructive critique or to project optimism.”
The State Board of Education will meet again next week to vote on the proposed changes and implementation of the new social studies standards for next school year. What is on the table will be the version with Superintendent Truitt’s amended language which removes “systemic racism,” “gender identity,” and “systemic discrimination” from the standards, but it’s still possible for someone on the board to make a motion to instead approve the Draft 4 standards that the public overwhelmingly endorsed.
My personal view is that the newly watered-down language serves the agenda of people who are comfortable with this nation’s status quo and/or don’t believe that institutional oppression exists. This last second adjustment to the standards shows a clear lack of commitment to the change that our students deserve, the change our students have been promised repeatedly in the past few months by this very board. Changing the language welcomes back the “comfortable silence which surrounds and upholds the systemic practices which continue to plague our nation and state” that Chairman Davis pledged to end in June.
If you agree that our students deserve better than whitewashed history, and if you side with the 85% that overwhelmingly endorsed the standards before Superintendent Truitt “refined” them, please consider reaching out to the state board members who will be voting next week to ask them to approve Draft 4.
Below is a list of Superintendent Truitt’s proposed revisions:
Systemic racism – 1 time in American History (replaced with: racism)
AH.C&G.1.4 Explain how systemic racism, oppression, and discrimination of indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and other marginalized groups have impacted equality and power in America.
Gender Identity – 3 times in Civic Literacy & 1 time in 8th grade (replaced with: identity)
CL.C&G.4.6 Critique the extent to which women, indigenous, religious, racial, gender identity, and ability groups have had access to justice as established in the founding principles of government.
CL.H.1.2 Compare competing narratives of the historical development of the United States and North Carolina in terms of how each depicts race, women, tribes, gender identity, ability, and religious groups.
CL.H.1.3 Interpret historical and current perspectives on the evolution of individual rights in America over time, including women, tribal, racial, religious, gender identity, and ability.
8.C&G.1.5 Compare access to democratic rights and freedoms of various indigenous, religious, gender, gender identity, and racial groups in North Carolina and the nation.
Systemic discrimination – 1 time in Civic Literacy (replaced with: discrimination)
CL.H.1.6 Exemplify ways individuals have demonstrated resistance and resilience to inequities, injustice, and systemic discrimination within the American system of government over time.