Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

The nationwide fight over public education and who gets to decide what is taught in schools, is now the center of debate in New Mexico. On October 28 New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) announced they would redevelop the state’s social studies curricula, to include an emphasis on “major historical themes such as power, class conflict, struggle, geo-political impact, social justice, equity and diversity,” and “ensuring divergence from a singular Eurocentric cultural script ensuring equitable inclusion of accurate historical stories reflecting Indigenous, Hispano/Latino, Chicano, Mestizo, Genizaro, African American and other cultural perspectives.” This was followed by a press release from the Republican Party of NM, which condemned and voiced concerns about the proposed changes.

“The proposed curricula changes have raised serious concerns across the state. It includes progressive and biased teachings, and there’s great concern that Critical Race Theory will become a staple in public education classrooms,” the official GOP statement said.

The controversy surrounding Critical Race Theory, an academic movement that teaches the intersection of race and law in the United States and is actually found in the coursework of only a handful of upper-level law schools, has been a rallying cry for conservative voters across the U.S. According to the New York Times, some 54 bills that have been introduced in 24 states would ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in public schools. In September of 2020, Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned diversity training from federal agencies.

According to NMPED the intention to redevelop the state’s social studies curricula is to provide more comprehensive and equitable education on history. The goal is “to collaboratively redevelop the NMPED Social Studies Standards using current evidence-based practices, research and data to create a culturally responsive set of Social Studies Standards that focus on the knowledge, skills and dispositions critical to ensure all students in New Mexico are college, career and civic ready,” NMPED’s press release states.

NMPED originally decided to hold a two-hour, in-person meeting on Friday, November 12, before deciding on an online Zoom meeting for that same day. NMPED stated that a Zoom meeting would allow for more participants and public comment. Chairman of the Republican Party of NM, Steve Pearce voiced concerns about the two-hour hearing. NMPED’s Zoom hearing will be four hours and was announced before Pearce voiced his concerns.

According to the GOP of New Mexico, NMPED’s choice to hold an online public hearing rather than an all-day, in-person hearing was a hyper-partisan move to limit public opinion. “This rash, political decision to kill the public comment period is as dangerous as the proposal itself,” Pearce said.

If the new standards are approved, they will be implemented during the 2022-23 school year. Education standards, which are typically updated every 10 years, have not been updated in New Mexico since 2001.

Written public comments will be accepted until 5 pm on November 12. The NMPED public hearing will be conducted via Zoom from 1 pm to 5 pm on November 12.