SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem released a revised proposal Monday for social studies standards in public schools that presents a mostly glowing view of American history, then that an early draft of the standards came under heavy criticism last year from conservatives and Native American educators.
The Republican governor demanded the proposed new standards they are free of “political agendas” and include a greater focus on Native American history. But they received quick criticism from some educators as a thinly veiled political document. They emphasize the qualities of America’s founders and mimic the language Noem has used when he jumped to the conservative cause of eliminate certain “divisive” teachings about race in public schools.
The 15-member standards task force, selected in part by the governor, included Noem’s chief of staff, two Republican lawmakers and the director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference, but only three educators certified by the Department of Education. The group’s work was facilitated by William Morrisey, a former professor at Hillsdale College, a conservative institution in Michigan that has tried to redo education across the country.
Noem, who is seen as a potential contender for the White House in 2024, also championed the “Compromise of 1776 to save our schools” as part of a conservative push to emphasize the qualities of America’s founders.
“The children of South Dakota deserve the best social studies education in the nation,” Noem said in a statement. “These standards raise the level of breadth and depth of civic and historical education. They present a true, honest and balanced approach to American history that is not influenced by political agendas.”
The standards, which provide a list of topics students should understand at each grade level K-12, are widely followed by school districts but are not required.
The new 128-page document more than doubles the length of the proposed standards that the Department of Education published last year. They would make the lengthy argument that the United States, though not without fault, is an exceptional nation that has exceptionally advanced rights for all races and genders. They are also peppered with Christian history and explore the influence of religion on leading figures in the nation and on Western civilization.
For example, seventh graders are expected to explain how the nation’s founders promoted equal rights for all people and advanced the idea that each person “is endowed with these rights by the God who created him, and that the existence of human slavery was understood by most, but not all, of the founders to be a contradiction of the principle of human equality.”
Seventh graders should also be taught: “Patriotism is love of country, which means that one holds one’s country up to an objective standard of moral right and wrong, preserving the ways in which that the country does good and correcting the ways in which it sometimes does so. does bad.”
The standards state that they are intended, in part, to “foster a love of country that, like any love, is not blind to fault.”
Nick Tilsen, president of an indigenous advocacy organization called the NDN Collective, said that when standards begin with goals like that, they are bound to promote a narrative that continues to treat minority groups unfairly.
“Your focus on this curriculum further perpetuates ignorance, further perpetuates racism and white supremacy,” he said, adding, “These priority areas are dominated by nationalism.”
The proposed standards are the second attempt by the Noem administration to update the learning objectives. Both the political right and left criticized last year’s standard-setting process, and Noem scrapped that proposal and relaunched the process. Noem’s new version, released Monday, appeased conservative critics.
Republican state Rep. Sue Peterson, who resigned from the task force last year in protest, praised the new standards in a statement released by the governor’s office. She called them “substantial and straightforward standards that emphasize our founding documents, our quest for freedom, and treat our nation’s history honestly.”
Noem’s office also sought to avoid criticism from advocates of Native American education and included a statement from Joe Circle Bear, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who was part of the task force.
“Governor Noem promised to tell our story as part of the American story, and these standards deliver,” Circle Bear said in the statement.
The new standards ask schools to teach students about Lakota leaders such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Spotted Tail, as well as leading figures in the Civil Rights Movement such as Rosa Parks and Malcolm X.
But Native American educators, who protested after the The Department of Education last year removed references to indigenous culture and history of a draft that the task force submitted for final approval, he said the new standards continued to push indigenous history and culture to the periphery.
“They are not inclusive to say the least. The goal was to move away from inclusion to push an agenda that the governor feels is important,” said Sarah White, who heads the South Dakota Coalition for Equity in Education. “It will definitely further disenfranchise our students when that indigenous lens is missing.”
White said his group is strategizing to influence the social studies standards as they open up for public comment at various hearings in the coming months. After the public comment period and possible revisions, the Governor-appointed Board of Educational Standards will approve the new educational standards.
White said, “We’re hoping to be able to pack the house at all the public hearings.”
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