Changing South Dakota’s social studies standards has become an increasingly contentious quest, which is why Gov. Kristi Noem made a wise choice Monday to delay making those changes for up to a year to field more public input on the topic.
Of course, this has become a minefield of the governor’s own making.
Several months ago, Noem called for changing the standards to reflect “our nation’s true and honest history,” as she put it in a press release issued Monday.
This echoes former President Donald Trump’s call last year for the formation of a so-called 1776 Commission to devise standards for a curriculum that would provide “patriotic education” for students. This would be done, it was suggested, by emphasizing the “core principles of the American founding and how these principles may be understood to further enjoyment of ‘the blessings of liberty.’”
This would, among other things, likely downplay the role of racism and sanitize other blemishes in the nation’s history. It would also target Critical Race Theory (CRT), which South Dakota educators note is geared more for higher education and isn’t used in the state’s curriculum plans.
In South Dakota, these changes also apparently mean de-emphasizing the role of Native American culture in our history.
Over the summer, a state-approved group worked in Pierre to draft the new social studies guidelines Noem called for, but the resulting proposal was then altered by the Department of Education, removing some references to Native Americans.
This drew sharp criticism, with the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition holding a rally in Pierre last week and calling for Noem’s resignation.
According to the Argus Leader, the feedback received so far to the proposed changes has been largely critical. Also, a public meeting that was scheduled for Aberdeen has been moved to a different venue to accommodate a larger crowd. Whether that meeting happens as planned is not known at this point.
Nevertheless, Noem remains determined to push ahead, based on a Twitter post Monday. She declared: “In every state, radical education activists are scheming in order to impose CRT & Action Civics. I just froze the review of SD’s K-12 social studies standards (because) I have concerns. Restoring honest & true American & South Dakota history in our schools won’t be easy but we must win.”
There is so much in this issue that is relative and politically charged. Obviously, the term “radical education activists” is terribly subjective, purposely vague and divisive, which only deepens the worry that explicitly mentioning CRT as a “radical” target could be blurred in some quarters into a reference to any racial topic that appears to criticize a white- and European-dominated status quo.
There is more to America and to South Dakota than that, and such facets must also be part of the “true and honest history” that politicians say they desire. The fact that our history isn’t perfect, isn’t without flaws and mistakes, and is multicultural with sometimes conflicting missions must not be lost in any definition of who we are, for understanding our complexities ultimately makes us stronger.
So, getting more feedback on this issue is a sensible path forward, although how much of it will be heeded in the long run remains to be seen. Still, South Dakotans should take advantage of this opportunity to speak up when the situation presents itself.