South Dakota social studies hearings pit teachers against Noem

By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — South Dakota teachers and school administrators overwhelmingly voiced their opposition Monday to Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed standards for social studies in public schools, saying the proposal subjects them to criteria expanding and difficult to cover in classrooms, but fails to teach students to think analytically about history.

Educators, who say they have been left out of the standards development process, voiced their opposition as the state’s Board of Education Standards launched a series of public hearings on Monday before deciding whether to adopt them.

Their objections present a determined challenge to the Republican governor’s proposed standards, which could overhaul state standards for history and civics by drawing heavily on materials from Hillsdale College, a private, conservative institution. from Michigan.

Conservatives and some parents who spoke at the Board of Education Standards hearing in Aberdeen on Monday defended the proposal as a solid effort to address the lack of awareness of American civics and rekindle appreciation for the ideals founders of the nation. Noem, a potential candidate for the White House in 2024, called the proposed standards “free from political agendas” and “the best” in the country.

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But two educators who were part of the 15-member standards commission spoke out against the standards they ostensibly helped create.

“The process was hijacked and reduced the commission to proofreading or randomly inserting content into a bulleted list of exhaustive curriculum topics, while the governor’s chief of staff, not the education secretary , had to approve every change,” said Samantha Walder, an elementary school. principal who was on the standards commission, told the Board of Education Standards.

“When our small group of educational opponents tried to make significant changes, we were fired by the president.”

About 87% of people who submitted hundreds of written comments to the Ministry of Education expressed their opposition. Educators and historians, including the American Historical Association, have criticized the proposal as failing to teach students to learn about history and think about it critically.

Members of several Native American tribes in the state also said the state did not consult the tribes when developing the standards.

At Monday’s hearing, pro-standards conservatives countered that the proposal increased references to Native American history and leaders. They also championed an idea popular in conservative circles: that education should be cleansed of pedagogical terms and belong to people other than professional educators.

“The complaint that students aren’t required to show higher order because the standards don’t use guild-approved buzzwords rings hollow,” said Jon Schaff, professor of political science at the Northern State University, which presented the commission’s rebuttal on Monday.

He added, “This is the kind of education our children need if they are to be informed and educated citizens ready to take on the arduous task of self-government.”

At Monday’s hearing, teachers and school administrators, with few exceptions, urged the board to reject the standards and suggested it consider those developed by a commission of 44 South Dakota educators the year last.

Last year’s commission, which was facilitated by the National Council for Social Studies, began its work with and built on state-established standards, including increasing references to history and to Native American culture.

The standards have faced objections from conservatives who have accused the National Council of Social Studies of advancing some controversial teachings about race, such as the academic framework known as critical race theory. The organization said it does not advance the teaching of critical race theory, but it does not shy away from discussing the facts of racism in the United States.

Two conservatives resigned from the group last year in protest, and a conservative commentator, Stanley Kurtz, took to the pages of the National Review to call on Noem to reject the proposed standards. In October of last year, she did just that.

The governor restarted the process with a small, conservative-dominated task force and hired a former Hillsdale College politics professor, William Morrisey, to lead the group’s work. He produced a 128-page proposal that contained distinct echoes of “The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum,” which glorifies the nation’s founders and criticizes the expansion of U.S. government programs.

During this time, Hillsdale also helped private and charter schools across the country implement classical education models that emphasize learning around traditional and Western writing and ideas. Rachel Oglesby, Noem’s chief policy officer, told the Board of Education Standards that she hopes the standards will bring the classic model to all public schools in the state.

The council will hold three more public hearings before deciding whether to adopt the standards next year.

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