CRT opponents upset over NM education proposals ignore Yazzie/Martinez ruling

Landmark education reform at the heart of changes to social studies standards lost in public debate

By: - November 15, 2021 5:45 am

New social studies standards are expected be approved early next year for the 2023-2024 school year. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans / Source NM)

A nearly six hour public meeting and more than 1,400 written comments show that New Mexicans care about social studies and the direction of education reform in the state. 

Somehow present but forgotten by most who spoke in email and during the online meeting on Friday is the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit that drapes over all education efforts by the New Mexico Public Education Department. 

During more than five hours of public comment on Friday, the conversation was directed and divided by individuals who rarely mentioned Yazzie/Martinez, if at all.

As the meeting started, the public education department released more than 1,400 email comments received ahead of the meeting. Yazzie/Martinez is mentioned in eight emails. 

And yet the landmark Yazzie/Martinez court ruling is the reason PED is adjusting the standards for social studies.

“The proposed standards add two categories: ethnic, cultural and identity studies and inquiry. The ethnic, cultural and identity studies area aligns with the court order in the Martinez-Yazzie Consolidated Lawsuit that the state provide each student with an education that is culturally and linguistically responsive,” education officials said in a statement.

Indigenous educators are at the forefront in support for the need to adjust the standards. 

Tiffany Lee (Diné/Lakota) said she supports the inclusion of ethnic, cultural and identity standards and inquiry standards that, “Support students’ learning of our diverse heritage and multiple identities of our people in NM and beyond.”

Lee, the chair of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, says the changes in K-12 social study curriculum are a step in the right direction to remedy the mandate from Yazzie/Martinez and opponents citing Critical Race Theory are off base.

“The challenges to the inclusion of this form of teaching and often to what is misunderstood as Critical Race theory do not have merit nor are they grounded in research that shows the positive results of teaching for social transformation and justice,” she said. “Additionally, the state of New Mexico is obligated to address the conditions under which the Yazzie and Martinez lawsuit was enacted.”

Critical Race Theory is a common phrase opponents cite when arguing against the standards. Several people outside the hearing protested with signs promoting this agenda. A review of emails sent to PED found Critical Race Theory is mentioned 245 times. 

However, none of these opponents mentioned Yazzie/Martinez or offered suggestions as to how New Mexico could comply with the standards from the lawsuit and direct goals to get the state out of the court mandate. 

There was a consistent effort to extend the public comment period, something supported by multiple school districts but is something the PED does not support. 

“We need to take the various proposals contained in this curriculum change to various parts of the state,” Robert Aaragon, vice chairman of the New Mexico Republican Party said during the meeting. “The best way to get that input on something like this, something as radically different as this proposal, is for us to take it to a local area and allow parents to have their input. So we are respectfully requesting that you delay this proposal to be adopted until that time, the newly elected school boards can take office come January 1, and have a minimum of six months to review.”

A decision on the social studies standards will be approved at a later date.

What is Yazzie/Martinez

Anna Maria Dahl said she was shocked when her son was learning the same concepts she was taught when she also attended Wilson Middle School in Albuquerque.

“With the pandemic, I was fortunate enough and privileged enough to get the opportunity to work from home, which means that I heard a lot of my son’s lessons,” she said. “His history lesson being the most alarming and that he was told that the Indigenous peoples that were here in America, willingly gave their land over to the colonizers and we know that’s not true. And it was just such a red flag.”

The social study standards are updating curriculum that hasn’t been changed in 20 years. That’s evident and something those in support routinely mentioned during Friday’s public comment.

The effort is also part of the state’s court mandated reform from the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit to bring, “culturally relevant curriculum” to public school classrooms. This style of teaching is meant to reach students that are disabled, Native American, English language learners and those growing up in poverty. These are the groups represented in the lawsuit against the state of New Mexico. These are the kids Judge Sarah Singleton ruled are not receiving an adequate education in public schools. 

The court’s opinion from Yazzie/Martinez was ordered in 2018 and is the guiding document for how the public education department makes any decisions regarding school funding, teacher development and school programs. 

To understand civics, governance and power, students need to understand different cultures and the contributions that diversity has had on the state and nation we live in today.

– Jeremy Ovenque of Santa Clara Pueblo

Last year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham attempted to get the state out of the lawsuit. State counsel argued that substantial increases in funding to school districts where many of these students learn was enough to meet the requirements from the court. The court did not agree, keeping the mandate over the public education department. This year, Yazzie/Martinez was strengthened further when Judge Matthew Wilson, who took over the case after Singleton died, supported a petition from plaintiffs on the Yazzie side who argued the state did not provide adequate technology to students forced out of their classrooms by COVID-19. This means the state public education department has to provide students with access to the internet and laptops, and a way for them to access classroom assignments. 

Tribal leadership in support 

Jeremy Oyenque (Santa Clara Pueblo) also spoke in support of the policy changes with the understanding that they will shape progress for student’s understanding of their place as citizens within an ecosystem of governments that range from the federal to the tribal and to the local.  

“To understand civics, governance and power, students need to understand different cultures and the contributions that diversity has had on the state and nation we live in today,” he said. “As a multicultural, multilingual majority minority state, the standards will allow for students to acquire the abilities to use knowledge about one’s community, culture, state and nation to make informed decisions in their lives beyond school.”

This concept is something Regis Pecos (Cochiti Pueblo) has championed as a tribal leader from his role as the former Governor of Cochiti Pueblo as well as his role leading state education committees with the state legislature.

“Martinez/Yazzie concludes that one of the constitutional obligations is to provide an education that prepares citizens to be productive members of society,” he said. “But Indigenous peoples of this nation have dual citizenship. We are also citizens over Indigenous nations, and it is fundamentally desirous for our Indigenous nations to also prepare as part of our cultural education process, our children to become civic ready to participate in our own Indigenous ways of life, and our own Indigenous governance systems and structures and institutions.”

Some local schools in tribal nations do teach students cultural history students might also learn at home. Traditional language programs also exist. Funding for these programs can vary and it does not take into account the Indigenous students who attend school off their tribal community. More than 6,800 Native American students from 115 tribal nations are enrolled at Albuquerque Public Schools, New Mexico’s largest school district. According to APS, the district employs five Native American language instructors that teach two languages for all students. 

And as Dahl said, her son at APS has not had any lessons in school about local tribal communities, that’s something they had to do on their own time through community events hosted by local Native American leaders.

“He knows we live on stolen land, and he knows that there were Indigenous people of Puerto Rico as well and that that’s part of our heritage,” she said. “It’s hard when it’s just mom but when I have these community leaders to lean on, it’s really helpful to get things right for kids.”

The new social studies standards could alleviate the gap while attempting to meet the Yazzie/Martinez standards and, as Pecos argues, provide instruction to non-Indigenous students that could also make them better citizens promoting a greater good for all.

“I think the ultimate outcome and the vision is how do we change from the way that history is coming back to haunt our society,” Pecos said. “And so that’s why it’s important not just to us. It’s important for the rest of this country to know about itself, about the reality of their history. That’s why all this, all this is not about (Indigenous), it’s about, it’s about us, helping others to understand themselves.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.