Is the U.S. a Democracy? A Social Studies Battle Turns on the Nation’s Values

Dana Goldstein:

The United States, unlike many other developed nations, lacks a national curriculum that defines what students should know. Each of the 50 states can create its own learning standards.

These documents are closely examined. While schools can teach material not included in them, they shape the content in standardized tests, and many educators rely heavily on the standards as they craft lesson plans. Student teachers are trained to use them.

Activists have long seen influencing state standards as an effective way to shape the next generation of voters. In 2010, conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education removed the word “democracy” as a description of American government, prompting protests. Georgia has also debated the term, eventually settling, in 2016, on standards that use the phrase “representative democracy/republic.”

The Michigan conservatives — who prefer “constitutional republic” — say their arguments are historical, not partisan.

The kindergarten section of the new draft of the Michigan social studies standards. Previously, conservatives pushed for the nation to be called a “constitutional republic” founded on “core values,” not “democratic values.” The previous draft also used the term “roles of the citizen” instead of “civic participation.”