Iowa’s social studies standards don’t contain the word ‘slavery,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not being taught

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 9:13 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Monday marks the first day of school, and potentially social studies, for many kids across Eastern Iowa. Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team found the word “slavery” isn’t mentioned in Iowa Social Studies Standards.

Those standards, like others in Iowa, are broad. The Fordham Institute called Iowa’s U.S History standards inadequate and gave them an “F” in a new report published in June.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team reached out to the Iowa Department of Education, who didn’t have anybody available for an interview on camera. Heather Doe, who is a communication director for the department, said in an email statement the standards focus on critical thinking skills.

“This work culminated in the Iowa Board of Education’s approval of revision of Iowa’s Academic Standards for Social Studies, which was done by Iowa educators and social studies professionals,” Doe said. “As a result, we have social studies standards that reflect Iowa’s values and needs, which prioritizes teaching our students how to be critical thinkers about the information they encounter, as opposed to memorization of a list of facts.”

Jeremy Stern, who is a historian and educational standard expert, said Iowa’s standards regarding critical thinking are well-written. But, he said facts are still needed to analyze history.

”You need actual content to think about for those analytical skills to be helpful,” Stern said.

Dr. Ruth White, who was an English teacher for 23 years, said she doesn’t believe those critical thinking skills are transferring over.

“People have really really skewed perceptions of who people are, what people think, how they behave, what led to what, what are contributing factors to get to a situation and whether those things are actual or not,” White said.

State lawmakers on both sides agree changes are needed but disagree on what changes are needed. Rep. Skylar Wheeler, (R-Orange City) talked about making direct changes to Iowa’s social studies standards. He said students need to learn that U.S. History isn’t perfect.

”There’s a lot missing in our social studies standards, let’s just be honest about it,” Wheeler said. “Maybe, it’s a conversation the legislature needs to have again. But, your 100% right. Kids should be taught slavery, they should know George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.”

Rep. Art Staed, (D-Cedar Rapids) said he’s concerned the legislature getting involved might politicize standards. He thinks the solution is using more money to train teachers, so they can fill the gaps in standards.

Catherine Mein is a social studies teacher and helped write the standards. She said ultimately it comes down to the teacher in the room more than any standards from the state.

”I can give a laundry list of topics to a beginning teacher and to an experienced teacher,” Mein said. “And the quality of instruction is still going significantly better if that teacher is well prepared, and understanding of content and teaching practices.”

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