North Carolina’s new social studies standards are a much-needed step toward helping students think critically about important issues and consider a wider spectrum of views.

Written educational standards help teachers know what to emphasize and are the overall principles students are expected to know at the end of a course. The new standards will be used in grades K-12 starting in August, with the biggest changes coming in high schools.

Despite working for two years through five revisions to address differing views on what to teach in social studies classes, the final version was approved by a vote of 7-5 early last month. Republican members were in the minority and Democratic members in the majority.

Efforts with the new standards boiled down to trying to balance teaching students about both the nation’s shortcomings and accomplishments over time.

The fourth draft included terms like “systemic racism,” “systemic discrimination” and “gender identity.” The adopted standards replaced these with racism, discrimination and identity due to opposition.

Maybe it’s a good sign that some Republican board members believe the new standards give an unfairly negative picture of the nation’s history and institutions, while some Democratic members think they don’t go far enough.

Some people believe a social studies class should focus exclusively on objective facts, but deciding which facts to teach is itself subjective and fails to provide perspective.

What better way is there to avoid repeating the nation’s mistakes of the past than by learning about them in school? Working with peers in a classroom to address multiple perspectives is a skill students need to develop to help reverse the growing polarization of political views and sustain our form of government.

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, a Republican, wrote in a preamble to the new standards that they should reflect the nation’s diversity and include the successes, contributions and struggles of multiple groups and individuals.

“This means teaching the hard truths of Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism, exploitation of child labor and Jim Crow to name a few.”

Truitt continued, It means “simultaneously teaching that the U.S. Constitution created the world’s first organized democracy since ancient Rome and that 90 years into our country’s history, President Lincoln ended the United States’ participation in what had been more than 9,000 years of legalized slavery and human bondage in most parts of the world.”

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