Louisiana parents, teachers raise concerns about critical race theory in social studies standards

Louisiana state school considers new social studies standards

By: - December 13, 2021 7:27 pm

As of last week, eight states had prohibited school districts from setting mask requirements, according to a tally by Education Week, with lawsuits winding through the court system in several of those states. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia require masks be worn in schools. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Parents and teachers weighing in on Louisiana’s proposed social studies standards expressed a fear that critical race theory would be taught in K-12 schools, according to a report by the Louisiana Department of Education released this month.

“(Critical race theory) has no place in K-12,” one anonymous comment read. “This standard is a back door allowing the teaching that one race is better than the other. It also teaches that one group is oppressors and the other oppressed.”

“These changes divide the people and the country,” another comment read. “All of our children should be taught to love our country and have national pride.”

The state education department released an overview of the public comments on its proposed social studies standards ahead of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s meeting this week. From Sept. 30 to Nov. 30, 423 Louisiana residents left about 1,800 comments about the social studies draft guidelines. About 40% of the commenters were Louisiana parents and guardians, another 45% were K-12 teachers, 9% were other Louisiana citizens and just 1% were K-12 students.

Conservative concerns of critical race theory — a framework used to demonstrate how racism has shaped and continues to shape modern society — have swept the country, including the Louisiana Legislature. Lawmakers during this year’s legislative session proposed multiple bills mandating changes to public schools’ social studies curriculum.

Social studies standards provide a guideline of what Louisiana students are expected to learn in each grade. In Louisiana, they are supposed to be reviewed and revised every seven years, but the current standards haven’t been changed since 2010-2011 — meaning the state is three years overdue for an overhaul.

If approved, the proposed standards would require kindergarteners to be taught about how people create community, such as with “local traditions/celebrations, customs, languages, and foods as an introduction to culture.” First graders would be taught social studies with a focus on Louisiana culture and history and second graders would be taught social studies with a focus on U.S. culture and history.

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Third through fifth graders would be taught world history from prehistory to 1600 AD. Sixth through eighth graders would be taught Louisiana history from 1580 to 1975, including “perspectives, experiences and contributions of various groups and individuals in Louisiana.”

The proposed standards call for high schoolers to be taught Louisiana and U.S. history from 1898 through 2010, including “the role of minority groups, including women, on the home front and in the military” throughout the World Wars and the Vietnam War.

While concerns about critical race theory were a consistent theme in public comments on the standards at every grade level, other teachers and parents praised the proposed standards for emphasizing views from minority and native groups. 

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“As a former high school social studies teacher, I am so happy to see the emphasis on differing points of view,” one comment read. “Looking at history through the eyes of minorities and those under-represented is so important. Allowing all students to see different perspectives can be life changing to the learner.”

Parents and teachers were also concerned the proposed standards aren’t specific enough.

For example, the current draft says kindergarteners should be able to “identify the influence of various ethnic groups on communities in Louisiana.”

But a suggested change was to specify French, English, African Americans, Choctaws, and others as the specific ethnic groups that jointly created Louisiana and its culture.

Officials will present a summary of the public comments on the social studies proposal to the state education board Tuesday. BESE is expected to vote on a final version of the new social studies guidelines in January. 

If the revised standards are approved, they will be implemented by the 2023-24 school year.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is a former Louisiana Illuminator reporter. Prior to working with the Illuminator, Canicosa worked for Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon. Canicosa 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.

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