Teachers stand up against Noem in social studies hearings in S. Dakota

SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) — South Dakota teachers and school administrators overwhelmingly opposed Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed standards for social studies in public schools Monday, saying the proposal comes with expanded and unwieldy criteria for coverage burdened in classrooms, but does not Teach students to think about the story analytically.

Educators who say they were left out of the process of developing the standards voiced their disapproval as the state’s Board of Education Standards on Monday began a series of public hearings before deciding whether to adopt them.

Their objections pose a decided challenge to the Republican governor’s proposed standards, which could reinvent the state’s history and civics standards by drawing heavily on material from Hillsdale College, a private, conservative Michigan institution.

Conservatives and some parents speaking at the Board of Education Standards hearing in Aberdeen on Monday defended the proposal as a robust attempt to address the lack of knowledge of American civics and to revitalize appreciation for the nation’s founding ideals. Noem, a potential candidate for the 2024 White House, has called the proposed standards “free of political agendas” and the “very best” in the nation.

But two educators who were members of the 15-member Standards Commission have spoken out against the standards they claim to have helped shape.

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

“When our small group of anti-educators tried to make significant changes, we were fired by the chairman.”

About 87% of people who submitted hundreds of written comments to the Department of Education opposed it. Teachers and historians, including the American Historical Association, have criticized the proposal for failing to teach students to engage with and think critically about history.

Members of several Native American tribes in the state have also said the state failed to consult with the tribes in developing the standards.

At Monday’s hearing, conservatives who supported the standards countered that the proposal increases references to Native American history and leaders. They also advocated an idea popular in conservative circles: that education must be stripped of pedagogical terms and belong to people who do not belong to professional educators.

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

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

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

Last year’s commission, supported by the National Council for the Social Studies, began its work with the state’s established standards and built upon them, particularly to reinforce references to Native American history and culture.

The standards met with objections from conservatives who accused the National Council for Social Studies of promoting certain controversial teachings about race, such as the academic framework known as critical race theory. The organization has said it does not advance the doctrine of critical race theory, but it is not shy about discussing the facts of racism in the United States.

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

The governor restarted the process with a smaller, Conservative-dominated working group and hired a former Hillsdale College politics professor, William Morrisey, to lead the group’s work. It produced a 128-page proposal that contained clear echoes of “The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum,” which glorified the nation’s founders and criticized the expansion of US government programs.

Meanwhile, Hillsdale has also been involved in helping private and charter schools across the country implement classic educational models that emphasize learning around traditional, Western scriptures and ideas. Rachel Oglesby, Noem’s policy director, told the Board of Education Standards she hoped the standards would bring the classic model to all public schools in the state.

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

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