Louisiana looks to update social studies standards, as debate on teaching about racism heats up

The revised social studies standards have ‘incendiary language,’ one Republican lawmaker said

By: - August 16, 2021 6:40 pm

Rep. Charles Owen (R-Rosepine) speaks to BESE about the revised social studies standards. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

In June, the Louisiana legislature hotly debated about what history should be taught in public schools. On Monday, that conversation continued during a Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting as the state education department presented new standards for Louisiana students learning social studies.

Louisiana’s social studies content standards are supposed to be reviewed and revised every seven years “to maintain rigor and high expectations for teaching and learning,” Jenna Chiasson, assistant superintendent for the Louisiana Department of Education, told the state school board Monday.

“The Louisiana student standards for social studies were last revised in 2010-2011,” she said, meaning the state is three years overdue for a review and revision.

The department found in their review that some social studies content is “unnecessarily repeated in multiple grades” and “some essential, highly complex content is taught at the elementary level and never again,” Chiasson said. 

For example, Louisiana seventh graders learn about the era of American Reconstruction, “but the effects and rise of Jim Crow are curiously absent from the high school U.S. history course,” Chiasson said. “This lack of cohesion does not help students form solid chronology, which they need to make valid causal connections.”

Louisiana House Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, told BESE that he liked that the revised standards include an emphasis on “minority experiences and underrepresented populations in America,” but said the revised standards need “a more objective approach to what really happened in history.”

“In 39 pages (of the revised standards), the word ‘liberty’ appears three times. ‘Culture’ and ‘cultural’ appear 75 times,” Owen told BESE. “‘Freedom’ appears six times… The standards are a little out of balance.”

Owen said he was also concerned the revised standards had “incendiary language that you guys need to talk about.”

“The phrase ‘American imperialism’ appears there as fact,” he said. “A lot of people don’t believe the United States is an imperialist nation. I don’t.”

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, who “came as a parent to listen,” told BESE he “hopes you all don’t get driven by a lot of the national and public conversation, and the discourse that’s happening across the street [in the Capitol].” 

“I think way too often we have tried to push bills regarding curriculum, and that’s not our place,” said James, who is chairman of Louisiana’s Legislative Black Caucus.

A steering committee will decide whether or not to endorse the revised standards Sept. 25. If they’re endorsed, parents and teachers can submit public comments online to BESE about the new standards. In December, BESE will then review the revised standards, along with public comments.

When the revised standards are finalized, they will be implemented by the 2023-24 school year in Louisiana public schools.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.