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Education Department unveils latest draft of controversial social studies standards


The Department of Education is releasing draft social studies standards for South Dakota’s K-12 students.

Last year, the proposed standards were the subject of controversy following the removal of specific references to the state’s Indigenous people.

“South Dakota’s children deserve the very best social studies education in the nation,” said Governor Kristi Noem in a press release. “These standards raise the bar for the breadth and depth of civics and history education. They feature a true, honest, and balanced approach to American history that is not influenced by political agendas. And under these standards, our students will focus more on Native American history and culture than ever before.”

A release announcing the draft says the new standards include “fostering a love of country” and “instruction free from political agendas and activism.”

The committee that drafted the new content standards was handpicked by Gov. Noem. The commission included her chief of staff; a retired professor from Hillsdale College, which is a private, Christian institution in Michigan; two Republican lawmakers; and the head of the South Dakota Catholic Conference, among others.

The new, 128-page draft comes a year after a content standards revision already took place.

Paul Harens is a retired social studies teacher from Yankton. Harnes sat on the first content standards review commission, whose draft proposal was altered by the Department of Education. A public outcry over those alterations led the governor to appoint a new commission.

Harens says the governor has made the standards political when they shouldn't have been.

“If you go back to the original standards that the committee, the group came out with last year, those were not political like hers are," Harens said. "We talked about real history. She’s skipping real history. It’s all coming from her.”

Harens worries the new content standards are retrofitted to pave the way for a 1776 curriculum lesson plan, such as one provided by Hillsdale College.

Noem says she was the "first candidate or public official" to sign the 1776 pledge, which seeks to counter what supporters call "anti-American indoctrination."

The project is a counter to The 1619 Project, which examines how slavery has shaped American society in the 400 years since slaves were first brought to colonies.

The state of South Dakota is accepting public comment on the draft standards.

The standards and the public comment forum are available online at the state Department of Education’s website.

The Board of Education Standards will hold a public hearing on Sept. 19 in Aberdeen and again in Sioux Falls on Nov. 21. More dates and locations are to be determined.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture