NM Republicans inflate curricula fears at education hearing

State lawmakers commandeer a presentation on social studies standards to stay on-message about what they call critical race theory

By: - May 2, 2022 6:52 am

A presentation about social studies standards last week by the state's Public Education Department to the Legislative Education Study Committee prompted state Republicans to emphasize national talking points about what the GOP is calling critical race theory. (Photo by Shelby Kleinhans for Source NM)

The purpose of a presentation Thursday by New Mexico Public Education Department officials for members of a legislative committee was straightforward: Provide a detailed update about proposed revisions of statewide K-12 social studies standards.

But that agenda item veered quickly into a passionate exchange between Democratic lawmakers, who applauded the changes, and Republican representatives gripped by right-wing panic about critical race theory. 

Sen. Harold Pope (D-Albuquerque) sounded tired when he asked PED Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment if critical race theory is being taught to public school students in New Mexico. Her response? A firm “No.” 

“Was critical race theory utilized in these social studies changes or proposals?” asked Pope.

“No, it was not.” 

Perea Warniment had opened the session with a reminder that the state is required by law to update K-12 social study standards for public schools. In a 2018 state court order in the landmark Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, the presiding judge sided with the plaintiffs’ contention that the State of New Mexico historically failed to equally and sufficiently educate its students. 

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The proposed social studies standards were crafted by 64 experienced educators from across New Mexico, who reviewed best practices in national standards as well as those of 10 other states. Focus groups spent months last year refining the proposals before opening them to public comments. That feedback was considered in another round of revisions. 

The updated standards are meant as a baseline for schools and teachers, who can refine their own lesson plans according to needs of their localities and classrooms, said PED Humanities Specialist Marit Andrews. “Our role is to assist districts and charter schools for implementation, but it’s up to those schools to actually apply it.”

The temperature in the room changed as Rep. Rod Montoya (R-Farmington) spoke. In mid-April, Montoya publicly advocated for school districts to reject the new standards, according to the Associated Press. On Thursday, he told the committee that after his staff combed through the proposed standards, he was alarmed to spot the words “systemic inequity.” 

“I’m very concerned about the introduction of that discussion,” Montoya said. “What I believe CRT is doing, and where it is so dangerous, is it ends up teaching that race and ethnicity differences are worse than ever. They are getting worse. The more we highlight our differences instead of our similarities, the more we highlight that there is separation between people.”

Perea Warniment referred him to the proposed standards for a history unit about the first contact between Spanish conquistadors and this land’s Native people. “With that came both destruction and creation,” she said. “Both of those words are very important.”

“For history’s so-called winners, it means that we are facing the fact that prosperity and wealth came at the expense of others,” she said. “For those who suffer the trauma of colonization, it’s a reminder of the costs our ancestors paid. But confronting those truths is also an opportunity — regardless of our race or our ethnicity — to take pride in our accomplishments while finding solutions to problems that still and will continue to exist.”

She added her belief that New Mexicans can do both those things simultaneously. “It can be an insult to our students and their families to say that they cannot handle these truths.”

At his turn to speak, Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia) said his road to the state Roundhouse began by “fumbling through” a Head Start program aimed at assimilating him and his Pueblo classmates into mainstream culture, as defined by U.S. federal standards. He later enrolled in public schools that lionized historical figures like Christopher Columbus and George Washington who’d spearheaded genocidal oppression of Native people. 

Lente said that hearing how some of his colleagues perceived CRT and race relations in New Mexico only illustrated to him why the state’s social studies standards are in urgent need of accurate revision. 

It’s not until we can provide those types of courageous curriculum — culturally responsive curriculum, culturally competent curriculum — to our own students that they will be able to free themselves.

– Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia)

State Rep. Rebecca Dow (R-Truth or Consequences), an advisory member of the committee, sponsored a bill in January “to prohibit the teaching of CRT in New Mexico.” She also seized upon manufactured CRT outrage for use in an ad for her gubernatorial campaign.

In an April 10, 2022 interview on the far-right, pro-Trump One America News Network, gubernatorial candidate and state House Rep. Rebecca Dow contended that “the same people trying to pass critical race theory are the same people trying to tell our children that if they were not First Americans, they are traitors and invaders.” (Screenshot from One America News)

She said Thursday that while she’d been absent the previous day for a session led by Native American education experts at Jemez Pueblo, she recalled instead her visit almost 20 years ago to the private Rehoboth Christian School outside of Gallup, which serves primarily Native American students. The school’s construction of a museum dedicated to documenting and acknowledging the impacts of the European missionary school’s history in relation to local tribes impressed her. 

It’s an example of partnerships between educators, families and communities “where they move past the past, and students are the beneficiaries,” she said.

Dow said her own family could barely make ends meet when they moved to New Mexico. “I’m the first in my family to complete college.” She said she is concerned, however, “that when we look at the social studies standards, there’s a whole lot about how government structures work, how government authority is dispersed and these social constructs — particularly around unequal power relations and systemic inequality.” 

Dow said she’d been contacted by many people about a book PED recently offered to educators, the National Book Award-winning Stamped From the Beginning, by historian Ibram X. Kendi. “They were told it was teacher preparation and implementation of the new social studies standards. … Are you aware that the author of the book has been quoted as saying that the Republican Party is the party of white supremacy?”

The book is an optional resource for professional development regarding African-American history, said Perea Warniment. “The purpose of that book is not political. The purpose of that book is to present a historical trajectory through the lens of African-Americans, and it does so very well.“

Find more

For more details on the proposed new social studies standards, visit PED’s website, where you can also sign up to receive updates on the standards. 

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Margaret Wright
Margaret Wright

Margaret Wright is a freelance journalist whose previous work has appeared at the Santa Fe New Mexican, New Mexico Political Report, Santa Fe Reporter, KUNM News and Popula, among other local outlets now shuttered. Homesickness besets her if she’s outside of the high desert for too long.

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