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New Mexico increases focus on race and ethnicity in K-12 curriculum despite parent pushback

New Mexico’s K-12 students will see more emphasis on race and ethnicity, including Native American history, in their curriculum over the next two years under new standards aimed at making social studies teaching more culturally responsive.

The New Mexico Public Education Department recently finalized the changes following months of debate that included concerns from parents worried their kids would be labeled racist.

The standards don’t mandate specific lessons or textbooks but will require school districts to increase their focus on social identities and understanding the world through the lens of race, class and privilege. School districts will begin training teachers on the new standards next year and implement them in the classroom in the fall of 2023.

Alisa Diehl, an education attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty representing the plaintiffs, calls changes to the social studies standards a “first step toward providing a public education system that takes students’ cultures, languages and life experiences into account as required by our statutes and constitution.”

Some commenters color-coded the entire proposed rule, identifying language that they saw as echoes of critical race theory, including phrases like “unequal power relations,” “privilege or systemic inequity,” and requirements that students identify their “group identity” starting in kindergarten.

The agency also removed “mentions of sexuality, communism, police brutality and gun violence following concerns raised by the public,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Maddy Hayden.

Republicans in the New Mexico Legislature proposed banning critical race theory. They also proposed replacing leadership at the education department, currently appointed by the governor, with an elected board. Both measures failed.

In a letter to state education officials last week, released Wednesday, Republican leaders said they would advocate for districts to use wiggle room in the curriculum requirements to keep conservative textbooks and lesson plans. They said education officials ignored public opposition.

The department “had no real intention of making significant changes to the proposed standards which were clearly outside of the mainstream of New Mexico’s values and traditions,” the letter said.

The letter was signed by House Republican leaders including Rebecca Dow, of Truth or Consequences. Dow is one of three members of her party fighting in a primary to take on the sitting governor.

“Whether they fit all the definitions of ‘critical race theory’ or not, the new standards appear designed to divide New Mexicans by race, ethnicity and economic status,” said Paul Gessing, president of the libertarian think tank Rio Grande Foundation.

Authors of the changes say identity has become a more important and more visible aspect of society and needs to be studied. “It’s more like a deep exploration that there are identity differences that exist, and that everybody is not always going to think the same. But the level of respect for everybody’s varying opinions is what we want to bring out in the classroom,” said Irene Barry, an English teacher in Aztec, New Mexico.

ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH 

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: MILWAUKEE INDEPENDENT

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Paul, 37, is from Scotland in the UK, but currently lives and works in Bangkok. Paul has worked in different industries such as telemarketing, retail, hospitality, farming, insurance, and teaching, where he works now. He teaches at an all-girls High School in Bangkok. “It’s a lot of work, but I love my job.” Paul has an active interest in politics. His reason for writing for FBA is to offer people the facts and allow them to make up their own minds. Whilst he believes opinion columns have their place, it is also important that people can have accurate news with no bias.

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