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State Board of Education should reject proposed social studies glossary

Update: On June 3, the State Board of Education voted to postpone their vote on the K-5 social studies unpacking documents, crosswalk, strand map, and glossary. Among other matters, members of the board raised concerns about the quality of the glossary. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt pledged to work with Department of Public Instruction staff to address their concerns and prepare revised documents for a vote that will occur no later than June 18. Credit goes to Superintendent Truitt and members of the board who are working to ensure that North Carolina educators receive the highest quality support materials possible. 

This week, the North Carolina State Board of Education will review the first set of guides to controversial social studies standards approved in February. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) staff created the documents to assist teachers in implementing the new standards during the upcoming school year. Members of the State Board will be tasked with reviewing and approving four different kinds of products, including a 36-page glossary.

The glossary introduction states that it is “designed to be a tool to provide educators with terminologies that represent the big, powerful concepts and ideas that teachers need to know and understand in order to teach the revised Social Studies Standards effectively and use supporting materials.” Unfortunately, North Carolina DPI staff did not provide a bibliography works cited page in the final document. I conducted simple Google searches to determine the origin of the definitions of a few “big, powerful concepts and ideas” defined in the glossary.

Several of the definitions appear to originate from standard online dictionaries or Wikipedia pages. For example, the definition of “American Exceptionalism” selects a handful of passages from a Wikipedia page (See Table 1.). The definition also includes an erroneous line about President Ronald Reagan popularizing an idea that has been popular for centuries. The authors also ignore the critical connection to Alexis de Tocqueville and misspell the name “Reagan.”

Table 1. “American Exceptionalism”

North Carolina Social Studies Glossary American Exceptionalism” Wikipedia Entry
American Exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is inherently different from other nations. This stems from its emergence from the American Revolution, becoming what the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism.” The term was originally coined by Joseph Stalin in 1929 in reference to the idea that America believed that it was different due to its geography, founding, and ideologies. President Regan [sic] is generally credited with popularizing the idea that America is exceptional. American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is inherently different from other nations. This stems from its emergence from the American Revolution, becoming what the political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation” and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism.” This ideology is based on liberty, equality before the law, individual responsibility, republicanism, representative democracy, and laissez-faire economics. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.” Under this other definition, America is seen as being superior to other nations or having a unique mission to transform the world.

 

The theory of exceptionalism in the U.S. developed over time and can be traced to many sources. The French political scientist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville was the first writer to describe the country as “exceptional” in 1831 and 1840. The actual phrase “American exceptionalism” was originally coined by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1929 as a critique of a revisionist faction of American communists that argued that the American political climate was unique and made it an “exception” to certain elements of Marxist theory.

Others appear to be taken directly from various social justice and critical race theory websites (See Table 2). In some cases, I could not determine the origin of the definition because of plagiarism. For example, an identical definition of “ethnocentrism” appears on several social justice and diversity group websites.

Table 2. Definitions from Social Justice Publications and Websites

Term North Carolina Social Studies Glossary Presumptive Origin
Equity Equity is the effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.  While equality is about dividing resources into matching amounts, equity focuses on dividing resources proportionally to achieve a fair outcome for those involved.   Equity in [sic] NOT the same thing as equality.

 

“The effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.” (Key Equity Terms and Concepts: A Glossary for Shared Understanding Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy)

 

“…equality is about dividing resources in matching amounts, and equity focuses more on dividing resources proportionally to achieve a fair outcome for those involved.” (What’s the Difference Between Equity and Equality? Mental Floss)

Ethnocentrism Ethnocentrism is consciously or unconsciously privileging one’s own ethnic group over others; assuming or judging other groups according to one’s own group values. “ethnocentrism: consciously or unconsciously privileging one’s own ethnic group over others; assuming or judging other groups according to one’s own group values” (ABC’s of Social Justice A Glossary of Working Language for Socially Conscious Conversation Lewis & Clark College and elsewhere)
Prejudice Prejudice is a preconceived judgment about a person or group of people, usually indicating negative bias. “A preconceived judgment about a person or group of people; usually indicating negative bias.” (Science of Diversity National Institutes of Health)
Privilege Privilege is a benefit, advantage, or entitlement enjoyed by an individual or group beyond what is available to others. “…a benefit enjoyed by an individual or group beyond what is available to others.” (Privilege… What Does it Mean? University of Central Arkansas)
Racism Racism can be defined as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. The concept of racism is widely thought of as simply personal prejudice, but in fact, it is a complex system of racial hierarchies and inequities. At the micro level of racism, or individual level, are internalized and interpersonal racism. At the macro level of racism, we look beyond the individuals to the broader dynamics, including institutional and structural racism. “The concept of racism is widely thought of as simply personal prejudice, but in fact, it is a complex system of racial hierarchies and inequities. At the micro level of racism, or individual level, are internalized and interpersonal racism. At the macro level of racism, we look beyond the individuals to the broader dynamics, including institutional and structural racism.” (Equity vs. Equality and Other Racial Justice Definitions Annie E. Casey Foundation)
Xenophobia Xenophobia is the unreasonable fear or dislike of things, cultures, forms of expression, or people that are different from oneself and one’s own experiences of the everyday; fear of that which seems foreign or strange. “…the unreasonable fear or dislike of things, cultures, forms of expression, or people that are different from oneself and one’s own experiences of the everyday; fear of that which seems foreign or strange.” (Social Justice Terms beyondequity.net)

Ironically, the definition for the term “human rights” comes from the Swedish-based fashion company H&M Group (See Table 3). Over the last decade, H&M has been criticized for various human rights violations, including the use of child labor and substandard working conditions in factories around the world. Recently, the company sought to rehabilitate its image by pledging to boycott the use of cotton from Xinjiang, a region of China that houses internment camps for Uyghur Muslims. The company essentially reversed its decision after facing criticism from the Chinese government.

Table 3. “Human Rights”

North Carolina Social Studies Glossary Human Rights” H&M Group
Human rights are rights we have simply because we exist as human beings – they are not granted by any state or government. Human rights are universal and are inherent to all people, regardless of nationality, color, religion, language, or gender, national, ethnic, or tribal origin, or any other status. Human rights range from the most fundamental – the right to life – to those that make life worth living, such as the rights to food, education, work, health, and liberty. Human rights are rights we have simply because we exist as human beings – they are not granted by any state. These universal rights are inherent to us all, regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.

Human rights range from the most fundamental – the right to life – to those that make life worth living, such as the right to food, education, work, health, and liberty. They include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

We follow the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, a set of guidelines for states and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed by businesses.

Members of the State Board of Education should ask the authors of the glossary to discuss their process for developing definitions that will be used by teachers throughout the state. Given the importance of providing appropriate supplementary materials for teachers tasked with implementing new social studies standards later this year, it would be a mistake for state education officials to approve a glossary replete with flaws, misconceptions, and spin. At a minimum, the State Board should reject the proposed glossary.

Terry Stoops / Director of the Center for Effective Education | John Locke Foundation

Terry Stoops is the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the progra...