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$35,000 grant provides opportunities and challenges for teaching history and civics in Aberdeen region

Pictured from left to right: Lennon Keller, Center for Public History and Civic Engagement student worker; Neal Schnoor, Northern State University president; Alyssa Kiesow, NSU College of Arts and Sciences dean; Heath Johnson, Aberdeen Area Community Foundation chairman; Jon Schaff, Center for Public History and Civic Engagement director; Pat Gallagher, South Dakota Community Foundation community development coordinator; and Michael Wanous, NSU provost and vice president for academic affairs.

The attached audio is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment.

A $35,000 grant will help fund three years of activities under the umbrella of the Northern State University Center for Public History and Civic Engagement. The grant comes from the Knight Foundation Aberdeen Fund and the South Dakota Community Foundation.

Northern State University Professor Jon Schaff, Ph.D., the center's director, says the grant will help bring regional and national speakers to Aberdeen to discuss matters of history, politics, and civics. The grant could also fund opportunities to assist regional K-12 teachers in boosting history and civics offerings in classrooms.

On December 20, Governor Kristi Noem announced draft legislation that would block education that teaches, among other tenets, "that individuals should be adversely treated or feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin."

Noem's legislation, called "Protecting Students from Critical Race Theory" is part of an ongoing effort from the governor's office and some state lawmakers to keep curriculum such as that offered by the New York Times "1619 Project" and the work of antiracism scholar Ibram X. Kendi from being taught in South Dakota schools.

Schaff says the timing of efforts from Pierre intersect with ongoing efforts from the university to provide more rigor in history and civics education. Those efforts from lawmakers, however, need to be considered from the viewpoint of higher education, according to Schaff.

"It's sort of the nature of education that students engage with ideas that make them feel uncomfortable," Schaff says. "As we draft pieces of legislation, which I think are trying to encourage something good, can we do that consistent with what we need to do as educators and the freedom we need as educators to tackle controversial subjects without limiting how we do that and how we speak about that?"

Schaff says he hopes the Northern State University Center for Public History and Civic Engagement can serve as a model for scholarly conversations that don't "seek to incite or to create spectacle about these things but talk about them in a civil, educated manner."

The first scheduled speaker in the center's upcoming speaker series is South Dakota's U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.