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Controversial social studies standards receive first of four public hearings


This week the public had its first opportunity to speak to a state education committee about social studies and history curriculum standards. The four-and-a-half hour meeting in Aberdeen was the first of four such hearings.

South Dakota Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson shared her vision of what educational standards should prioritize. Sanderson said curriculum standards set expectations for what students should learn.

"We want them to contribute as responsible citizens, as voters, and engaged volunteers, who recognize the ways they can impact their communities around them," Sanderson said. "To that end we need standards to guide our educators as they help our kids to learn.”

Sanderson acknowledged the intense public interest in this year’s process. There’s been controversy over mentions of Native American history.

Cherie Farlee is the education director for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. She spoke on behalf of the tribe’s education committee chair Merrie White Bull, about the state’s obligation to consult with tribes when revising K-12 curriculum.

“To date, the State of South Dakota has not reached out to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe government to consult, seek input, receive feedback or otherwise meaningful dialogue," Farlee said. "The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe supported the recommendation made by the first convening education experts to revise the K-12 social studies curriculum standards.”

The only school administrator on the social study standards revision commission is Samantha Walder.

She describes the process as a curriculum review not a development process. She said input from a private conservative college on patriotic education influenced the process.

"The document itself was the first step that diverted the commission from conserving processes where those who were closest to the work are trusted to do their job," Walder said. "The process was hijacked and reduced the commission to essentially proofreading or randomly interjecting content.”

Michigan’s Hillsdale College worked with former president Trump on classroom materials designed to counter so-called “anti-American indoctrination” in education.

The next three curriculum standards hearings will take place in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre between now and March of next year.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture