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State Leader Defends Social Studies Changes, But Some Work Group Members Still Upset



South Dakota’s top education official says the media is misrepresenting changes to draft social studies standards. Meanwhile, some members of a group appointed to work on the standards?say they’re still in the dark and upset about the?alterations. 

Public hearings?will begin?in a month?on?the?draft?social?studies content standards for South Dakota Kindergarten through 12 students. 

The Department of Education released those standards over a week ago with several changes.?The department secretary testified before a legislative committee?Wednesday. 

Content standard revisions are routine.?The last time it was done was?in 2015.?The state has a working group of?experts from across the state revise and rework those standards. 

The group of about 40 educators and historians came together and looked at U.S. History and American government, Native American history and tribal government, and South Dakota history and government. Social studies in South Dakota is divided into four main subjects—history, civics, geography and economics. 

Standards set the minimum of what the state expects students to get taught. Teachers can go beyond the standards.?? 

For example, the DOE?draft standards expect fifth graders to be able to “Identify the basic structure of the government by studying The United States Constitution and explaining why the United States was established as a republic.”?? 

But when the Department of Education released its draft standards, they differed from what the working group?submitted to the department.?? 

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  • Working group draft:
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Ed secretary: Media reports false

Tiffany Sanderson?is the Department of Education?secretary. She says recent media reports about the content standards don’t reflect what happened with standards revisions.?

“Some of the recent narrative that you heard might make it seem like the?department is now proposing or recommending?to erase?all teaching or learning around Native American history or government,” Sanderson says. “That’s absolutely false.”? 

Tiffany Sanderson

Sanderson says the Department of Education?did?make changes to the work group’s recommendation to?“ensure schools have ability to teach about?all cultures?that make up the fabric of South Dakota”—including?Oceti?Sakowin people.?Oceti?Sakowin is a term used to recognize tribal communities within South Dakota.?? 

?Sanderson says?the?DOE’s?proposed changes are more inclusive than the ones that were?in place in 2015.? 

“Examples of additional ways that schools could address cultural teaching include our Karen population, the culture of our Hispanic students, our?Somali?students and our Czech students, just as examples,” Sanderson says. “Of course, there are many, many cultures that make up the South Dakota demographics.”?? 

However,?the proposed standards?do?not mention the Karen community, or Hispanic or?Somali or Czech students.?Theoretically, teachers can go beyond the content standards and teach about those communities.?? 

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There are some cultural?standards, like for fourth graders in state history.?The Department of Education’s grade level standard 4.H.6.1 says,?“Describe the influences of various cultures on South Dakota Communities.”?? 

What the working group?recommended for?standard?4.H.6.1 was “Explain?how?the?Oceti?Sakowin?and Oyate?culture and other groups were affected by westward expansion, the creation of the reservation system and the US assimilation policies and programs.”?? 


  • Working group draft:
  • Department of Education's draft:

Work group member?explains process

Paul Harens?is a retired teacher from Yankton who served as a?high?school?world?history lead during the content standards review.?? 

He says?the working group’s?draft of content standards allow for the teaching of all cultures that make up South Dakota. But he says?the Department of Education?revisions?shortchange?the Native American experience.?? 

“Because they specifically talk about what happened with western expansion and to the?Native?Americans?and other groups. It’s not just?Native?Americans,”?Harens?says. “One of the examples which was being used was the expansion of the Germans, the Danes and all those coming in. But there was a greater affect upon the native cultures.”?? 

Harens and?others?who participated in the working group?are upset about the preface the?Department?of Education?added to?the content standards, which he says?the working group?didn’t write. He’s since asked the?DOE?to remove his name from the draft.? 

The DOE has not answered questions about who made the content standard changes and why. That’s something?Harens?and others want to know.?? 

The DOE has said in a written statement that?“the department made certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public.?? 

“The draft standards provide a balanced, age-appropriate approach to understanding our nation’s history, government, economy, and geography, including opportunities to teach about the experiences of all peoples,” the statement continues.?? 

Harens?says the?working?group was told?on the first day of the?eight-day?content standards?summit?that the 2015 social studies curriculum standards were not inclusive enough. He says?that included insufficient information on?indigenous tribes in South?Dakota.?He says that’s the reason why every?subgroup had at least one standard concerning the?Oceti Sakowin Oyate?and Native Americans.??? 

“I mean, they took most of them out, of the standards that we created to make it more inclusive,”?Harens?says. “In fact, there’s very little that talks about?specifically the histories of indigenous tribes in South Dakota. In fact, one of the things I know they took out was they were going to have younger students look at a map of South Dakota and identify the reservations. That’s all, and they eliminated that one. I don’t understand.”? 

That was?a geography standard for first graders, which was removed.? 

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Tribal educator dismayed

Another?participant?who is concerned about the changes is Sherry Johnson, who is the education director for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe.?? 

She says?she put herself out there for the state of?South Dakota and was apprehensive coming?to?the work group. But, as the event progressed,?Johnson?says she grew comfortable being there.?? 

Sherry Johnson

“In answering questions and talking about cultural, racial things, identity, and clarifying some of the things that people have just out of ignorance,” Johnson says. “I was in a real safe place to answer questions truthfully for people. I was really happy about the experience to have history include Native Americans.”? 

Johnson says it was a positive experience, but when she saw the Department of Education draft she was dismayed.?? 

Johnson says the Department of Education draft?content standards?read?a lot like the 1776?Project, which is a?history and civics?curriculum?created by?the Trump Administration.?? 

Governor Kristi?Noem?has signed something called the 1776?Pledge, which seeks to restore “honest and patriotic education that cultivates in our children a profound love for our country.”?? 

One Republican lawmaker,?Rep.?Steve?Haugaard—former speaker of the?House—says it would be wise to reinsert references to?Native American culture back into the content standards. He says that would redeem the image of the standards.?? 

The content standards are currently?up for public comment, with a?first?public hearing set for?Sept.?20?in Aberdeen.?? 

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