The Noem Administration is showing its apartheid-y whiteys in overriding the recommendations of educators and deleting numerous references to American Indians from the new K-12 social studies content standards drafted last month by 46 educators:
The most glaring omission in the new, roughly 60-page draft compared to the working group’s report is the emphasis on Native American history, particularly a point of pride for some group members in build-up to the release of the standards Aug. 6.
“In our textbooks, when you go and look at U.S. history, and even our local regional history, back when Columbus discovered that there were Indigenous people here, they mention [indigenous people] for about a page and a half and after that there’s very little mentioned,” said Sherry Johnson, a working group participant and head of the Education Department with the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, last week.
The new standards were aimed to give a “better portrait of Indigenous history,” she told FNS.
But a comparison of the two sets of standards by Forum News Service reveal a diluted focus on Indigenous history, from the removal of references in kindergarten to the Oceti Sakowin — the Sioux Nation tribal communities rooted in the Dakotas and Upper Midwest — to the erasure of a standard in a high school economics classroom urging students to learn about banking in local, state, federal, and tribal communities.
The current standard only reads, “Explain the structure and function of the U.S. banking system” [Christopher Vondracek, “In 11th-Hour Change, SD Officials Cut Indigenous References from Social Studies Standards,” Forum News Service via Mitchell Republic, 2021.08.09].
The Oceti Sakowin standards are not completely removed from the Noem Department of Education draft. “Additional Resources” still include “Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings,” developed through more than a decade of collaboration with Native educators, and “Native Knowledge 360,” a product of the National Museum of the American Indian. Eighth graders are still to master “events and impacts with Indigenous Native Americans as Westward Expansion occurred.” High school civics students will still discuss tribal constitutions, legislation, and treaties and the interaction of tribal governments with state and federal governments.
But where educators composed a standard directing that kindergartners “Read or listen to Oceti Sakowin stories, such as Iktomi stories and historical lore stories,” the Noem DOE replaces that standard to expect kindergartners to “Understand that there are different people and cultural groups that make up South Dakota’s communities.” The educators said kindergartners should “Discuss the tribal nations of the Oceti Sakowin”; the Noem DOE simply erases that line. Noem’s DOE similarly deletes a standard asking eighth graders to “acknowledge the ancestral home of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate and recognize the historical and contemporary voices of South Dakota’s Indigenous Native Americans.” Where educators said eigth graders should “Critique significant primary sources, including Oceti Sakowin Oyate Treaties, and their impact on events of this time period,” Team Noem prefers that students “Interpret the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents and evaluate their impact on the United States.”
And in a seemingly petty revision, where the educators’ standards asked high schoolers to “Explain how voting rights and equal protection of the law have been expanded to include diverse groups of people, including minorities, women, and indigenous Native Americans,” Noem’s DOE inexplicably shortens the ending to elide our Native neighbors: “…diverse groups of people, including minorities and women.”
SDPB has helpfully posted the original working group draft and the Department of Education’s whitewashing so we can all compare what educators produced to guide social studies instruction with what Noem’s bureaucrats superimposed to fit the boss’s wishes.
At least as broad and notable as the deletion of various American Indian-related content is the Noem DOE’s erasure of “Inquiry” standards that the educators’ working group had recommended. From kindergarten to second grade, educators expected students to deal with “compelling questions”, distinguish primary sources from secondary sources and fact from opinion, and “Make decisions about and act on civic problems in the classroom.” The Inquiry standards took a breather in third and fourth grade, then returned in fifth through eighth grade, asking students to grapple with sources, validity of claims, and democratic decision-making.
The educators’ working group said those Inquiry standards require special attention:
An inquiry strand has been added to the anchor standards. Inquiry is at the heart of social studies; it disciplines and supports the ways in which practitioners in the field (such as geographers, historians, economists, and political scientists) research and make decisions. Inquiry, or asking questions to drive one’s learning, is crucial to strong student outcomes.
When revising the anchor standards, workgroup members expressed that having inquiry and other disciplinary skills embedded only within the standards can cause the skills to be overlooked during lessons. To ensure skills are covered at each grade level, an inquiry strand was added to the list of anchor standards. These anchor standards reflect skills crucial to best practices in social studies. These standards have been written to accommodate all grade levels, with the flexibility for specific grade-level standards to be written under the Inquiry anchor standards [South Dakota Social Studies Standards, educators’ working group draft, 2021.07.25, as posted by SDPB].
Noem’s DOE ignores that advice and folds some of those Inquiry standards into the standards for specific subjects. More often, though, Team Noem simply throws inquiry into the memory hole (because nothing annoys Kristi Noem more than people asking a lot of hard questions).
Several other small changes support the assessment of standards working group member and retired Yankton social studies teacher Paul Harens, who says the Department of Education has turned the standards into a campaign speech:
He calls the removal of the standards “a sin.”
“We made a document that was not political. It was apolitical,” Harens says. “They have since—the Department of Education, with the changes they made—have made the document political” [Lee Strubinger, “Draft Social Studies Standards Don’t Match What Group Submitted,” SDPB, 2021.08.09].
Here are some little political jabs Noem’s DOE has inserted:
1. From the very top, Team Noem rewrites a largely educratic preface to read more like hagiography (saint-making) of the nation’s founders that turns quickly to ideological argument peppered with theocratic indoctrination:
As great students of history, geography, civics, and economics, the framers of our nation’s constitution were keenly aware that while many attempts at representative governments had been tried, they had dissolved due to the citizenry’s inability to moderate power once concentrated in a select few. Once concentrated, it was abused. Once abused, the people could not peacefully alter the government without an “appeal to heaven.” Often that led to the destruction of the government that had formerly guaranteed their rights. Without a governmental protection of liberty, little remained to protect the individual while looking after the common good.
Therefore, knowing that people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” and that the republic’s work is best done when power is shared, the framers established a republic that encouraged compromise, so that it could endure, while protecting individual rights [South Dakota Department of Education, new preface to revised draft of K-12 social studies standards, updated 2021.08.05].
2. On page 4, DOE sneaks in a plug for Governor Noem which has nothing to do with understanding the standards and everything to do with another Noem talking point that produced almost none of what it promised:
A part of Governor Noem’s 2021 Civics and History Initiative, instructional materials for teachers will be developed to provide South Dakota educators easy access to lesson plans, primary and secondary sources, and other classroom materials to support teaching the revised standards [DOE, 2021.08.05].
3. Under Grade 8: United States History, the educators recommended that students understand the Constitution “as a living document.” Noem’s DOE changes that to “a governing document.”
4. The educators would have challenged high schoolers to “Develop arguments for and against the use of the Electoral College.” Lest our young’uns get to questioning the only way losers and apartheidists can win the White House, the Noem DOE directs high school civics teachers to focus on teaching kids to “Explain the purpose of the Electoral College” (which, hey, sure! let’s have kids explain that the purpose of the Electoral College was to protect slavery and has evolved into a partisan scam to rig elections for the shrinking white oppressor class!)
Governor Noem likes to say that she trusts the experts (until the experts disagree with her agenda) and trusts her citizens. But 46 of her most expert citizens handed Noem’s Department of Education revised social studies standards, and Noem’s DOE deleted numerous mentions of Native American history, scribbled out important standards dealing with the kind of critical inquiry that turns civics students into thoughtful and engaged citizens, and frosted this educational document with political claptrap aimed at boosting not our students’ intellects but Kristi Noem’s campaign speeches.