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Is It Really the Season of our Discontent?

created Mar 20, 2016 03:48 PM

Framework Revision Process Runs Counter to National Angry Narrative

By Nancy McTygue

As we were putting together our latest Teach the Election piece this week, my colleague Shelley told me that we had really picked an exciting year to launch a series about electoral politics.  From the sheer number and variety of political candidates, the not-for-family-viewing debates, the constant social media commentary, and the real possibility of a brokered convention, 2016 is shaping up to be different from any other electoral year in American history.  One of the most striking things about this campaign is the success of two populist candidates, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  Although they couldn’t be further apart in demeanor, experience, and vision for the United States, they both benefit from large and growing numbers of Americans who are angry with the status quo.  Supporters of both Sanders and Trump envision a radically different America, one where wrongs have been corrected and those left behind will be given a hand up.  Many have reported on this shared anger, labeling 2016 as the season of discontent, a sign of a larger feeling of malaise and disconnection within the country.  I believe this may be true for some, but I also can’t help contrasting this anger and disconnection with the respectful, patient, and yet very determined engagement of most people who have provided suggestions and feedback on California’s History-Social Science Framework. These citizens understand the process, organize to strengthen their argument, and demonstrate a level of civil persistence that has improved the accuracy and inclusivity of the document.  Their work also stands as example of positive and productive civic engagement, one that reaffirms our belief in the power of individual citizens as well as collective action.

Until this past December, I served as a member of the Instructional Quality Commission, charged with the revision of the Framework, and as part of this service, I co-chaired (with Bill Honig) the public hearings where we debated the Framework and with my colleagues here at the CHSSP, rewrote the 2005 draftOur charge was to incorporate recent legislation, the new CCSS and ELD standards, “current and confirmed research,” and where appropriate, incorporate feedback and suggestions from the public.  And boy did we get public comment – more than 10,000 written submissions in the last online review alone.  Every meeting we held, whether it was to debate the substance of the draft or just to calendar the next meeting date, people lined up to share their perspective, often driving hundreds of miles and then waiting hours to testify for as little as one minute.  These Americans were not disconnected.  And while many were passionate advocates, they were also kind, friendly, and willing to extend a hand to help in whatever way they could.  For the last year, I’ve had trouble with my right knee, and one of things I will never forget from this experience is the number of people who would take the time to come talk to me before and after their often impassioned testimony, thanking me for serving and asking how I felt and the status of my health.  Their kindness made a relatively stressful experience much more positive and demonstrated to everyone else that as Americans we can disagree and still work together, treat each other with goodwill, and move forward focused on our shared goal.

Although my time on the Commission has ended, we’re still involved in the process, reviewing the public comment and providing recommendations for its final revision to the State Board of Education.  This week the draft will have its last hearing before the HSS Subject Matter Committee of the Instructional Quality Commission.  If you have not yet participated in these hearings or just want to see an alternative to the angry and disconnected narrative, I would encourage you to attend or watch online.  Revising a state framework doesn’t have the cachet of a presidential election, but, I would argue, in California at least, it can teach us a few things about how our democracy could and should work.