Editor's Note: The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, and we have been asked by Indiana citizens to comment on the draft Indiana Social Studies Standards. We conclude that Indiana’s Standards are far better than those of states such as Minnesota and Rhode Island, and that the draft Standards provide a solid basis for social studies instruction, although they would still benefit from systematic revision.
We have sent the following letter to Dr. Katie Jenner, Secretary of Education, Indiana Department of Education.
Dr. Katie Jenner, Secretary of Education
Indiana Department of Education
Indiana Government Center North, 9th Floor
100 N Senate Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
March 29, 2022
Dear Secretary Jenner,
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards,1 and we have been asked by Indiana citizens to comment on the draft Indiana Academic Standards for Social Studies.2 (Hereafter Standards.) We conclude that Indiana’s Standards are far better than those of states such as Minnesota and Rhode Island,3 and that the draft Standards provide a solid basis for social studies instruction, although they would still benefit from systematic revision.
Solid Basis for Social Studies Instruction
Indiana’s Standards include fair amounts of factual content throughout, largely unpoliticized, which provide clear expectations for teachers and students. It presents its material as clear, bullet-pointed statements of fact, albeit distributed in many different files rather than collected in one file for easy review. We endorse Indiana’s overall structure for its Standards, and generally endorse its content. Where we disagree in detail about the choices and omissions, we would suggest revision along the lines of American Birthright—above all, to add more rigor and factual content. Indiana’s draft provides a good start for systematic revision of its Standards—but does not provide it an excuse not to engage in that systematic revision.
Shortcomings and Recommendations
Absent Reading and Writing Expectations. Indiana’s Standards should have firm and clear expectations, which parents may use to hold their schools and their teachers accountable. Social studies instruction should include: Reading Expectations, which build toward students capable by graduation from high school of reading an intellectually and stylistically sophisticated 200-page history book, which demonstrates that they are prepared for an undergraduate history course; and Writing Expectations, which build toward students capable by graduation from high school of writing an intellectually and stylistically sophisticated 10-page history paper, which demonstrates that they are prepared for an undergraduate history course.
Recommendation: Provide firm and clear reading and writing expectations, which parents may use to hold their schools and their teachers accountable.
Politicization: The Standards includes politicized instruction and vocabulary. USG2.8 includes “diversity” as one of the “fundamental principles and values of American political and civic life,” along with liberty and equality—which is not true, and will facilitate the imposition of the radical and illiberal “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ideology in Indiana public schools. The phrase “Students learn they are citizens of their school, community, and the United States” cheapens the value of American citizenship by conflating it with (by implication) publicspiritedness (K.Learning Outcome). The direction “Define immigration and explain how immigration enriches community” transforms social studies instruction into a partisan position on immigration policy (3.1.9). Terms such as ethnocentrism (7.3.13), social justice (USH.7.2), and global climate change (USH.8.2) assume the point at issue, and introduce modern ideological and partisan polemic into social studies instruction. Points such as “Explain the origins of legislation which began to unravel the work of the New Deal and the Great Society, including reforms in the areas of welfare, public housing, Social Security, and labor.” (USH.9.2) frame conservative policy reform simply as the negation of progressive policy initiatives, rather than as pursuing positive ideals. The Standards contain enough politicized language and instruction to give pause—and require revision.
Recommendation: Remove all politicized language and instruction from the Standards.
Absent Core Disciplinary Concepts: Liberty, Documents of Liberty, and Common American Culture: Indiana does not include Liberty, Documents of Liberty,4 or Common American Culture5 as core instructional focuses. These should be included explicitly as instructional focuses, to ensure proper organizing principles for social studies instruction—and to ensure that social studies instruction does not casually cast these aside. The Standards frequently speak in phrases such as “the democratic process,” (e.g., USH.9.4), but do not address sufficiently liberty, freedom, the Documents of Liberty, or America’s common culture.
Recommendation: Add core instructional focuses of Liberty, Documents of Liberty, and Common American Culture to the Standards, and revise it accordingly throughout.
World History Substituted for Western Civilization: The Standards cannot provide a coherent presentation of Western Civilization’s ideals and institutions of liberty, which Indiana students need if they are to understand the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, because they substitute a disjointed and vague World History course for dedicated instruction in the history of Western Civilization.
Recommendation: Indiana should revise the Standards to contain discrete, sustained coverage of Western Civilization throughout K-12 instruction, to provide students the coherent narrative of the ideals and institutions of liberty contained within the histories of the ancient Middle East, Israel, Greece, Rome, Medieval Christendom, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and medieval and early modern England. This instruction should include a dedicated and required class in high school.
Recommendation: Indiana should revise the Standards to contain discrete coverage of World History, either as an elective or as a required course, to introduce students to the histories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Recommendations: Accompanying Measures
Social studies standards reform should work in tandem with broader support for education reform. We urge Indiana to undertake several broader measures:
Licensure Requirements, Professional Development and Textbooks: We suggest that Indiana policymakers work to update the state’s licensure requirements, professional development, and textbook standards to align with the revisions we propose for the Standards.
Dual Enrollment Course Standards Revision: We suggest that Indiana policymakers enact laws that ensure that dual enrollment social studies courses (dual course, dual credit, concurrent enrollment) align with the revisions we propose for the Standards.
Statutory Reform: We suggest that Indiana policymakers enact laws that provide statutory underpinnings for the revisions we propose for the Standards.6
Indiana has done a good work in producing these draft Standards—but it still should engage in systematic reform of the Standards, to address the criticisms we have made. We urge you to engage in this systematic reform. The draft Standards are acceptable, but Indiana’s citizens deserve excellent social studies standards.
President, National Association of Scholars
Executive Director, Civics Alliance
1 American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, Civics Alliance, https://civicsalliance.org/american-birthright/.
2 Prioritized Standards Available for Public Comment, Indiana Department of Education https://form.jotform.com/230305287967160.
3 Wilfred M. McClay, National Expert: Minnesota’s Academic Standards Among the Nation’s Worst: Review of the 2021 Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards in Social Studies, Draft Three (Center of the American Experiment, 2022), https://files.americanexperiment.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Among-The-Nations-Worst.pdf; David Randall, Taken for a RIDE: How Rhode Island’s Social Studies Standards Shortchange Students (National Association of Scholars, 2023), https://civicsalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Taken-for-a-RIDE.pdf.
4 E.g., KRS 158.196 Instructional materials standards and concepts -- Documents and speeches to be included., https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/law/statutes/statute.aspx?id=53057&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery.
5 For the history of American culture, see American Birthright, pp. 124-25, 130, 132, 136-37, 141 [Grade 11: United States History: Items 15, 39, 49, 63-64, 78].
6 Civics Alliance: Social Studies Curriculum Act, https://civicsalliance.org/model-palm-card/social-studies-curriculum-act/; Civics Course Act, https://civicsalliance.org/model-k-12-civics-code/civics-course-act/; United States History Act, https://civicsalliance.org/model-k-12-civics-code/united-states-history-act/; Western Civilization Act, https://civicsalliance.org/model-k-12-civics-code/western-civilization-act/; Historical Documents Act, https://civicsalliance.org/model-k-12-civics-code/historical-documents-act/; and more broadly, the Model K-12 Civics Code, https://civicsalliance.org/model-k-12-civics-code/.
Photo by Yay Images on Adobe Stock