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Noem DOE Finds Too Many Indians, Too Much Inquiry, Not Enough Rah-Rah-Founders-and-Kristi! in Social Studies Standards

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.


  1. DaveFN 2021-08-09

    “Interpret the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents and evaluate their impact on the United States. ”

    All ears when Noem can put anything like that into words, not that her proverbial apprehension of the topic if it exists could find them.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2021-08-09

    Well…this is just too bad….we’ll have to rely on the professionalism of social studies teachers to sift through the BS and impart a true appreciation of our remarkable American History…warts and all.

  3. V 2021-08-10

    I hope she leaves the Lakota Language Standards alone.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-08-10

    V, keep it down! Don’t let Kristi know there’s more Indian talk in our education standards, or she’ll go tearing that up, too!

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-08-10

    Arlo, yes, we should trust the teachers. I hope that this unilateral and political revision of the social studies standards will have little to do with the actual teaching our professional educators carry out in the classroom. Kristi’s campaign materials should have nothing to do with what books, articles, poems, and primary historical sources our teachers choose to incorporate into their lessons. The best teachers out there won’t even notice this political revision; they don’t need bureaucrats or partisans in Pierre to tell them what kids need to learn about history, civics, economics, geography, or any other subject.

  6. Donald Pay 2021-08-10

    Cory is correct. Noem’s “standards” won’t be taught in the classroom. “State standards” and 50 cents won’t buy a Rapid City Journal, let alone a textbook from Hillsdale College. Clearly, Noem is using state standards to try to sell the Hillsdale College 1776 curriculum. I’d bet her campaign gets a kickback for every textbook sold. Hillsdale College’s curriculum is well-know to be hostile to Native Americans, so the watering down of the standard on Indian history is geared toward that curriculum’s whitewashing of that side of our history.

  7. Joe 2021-08-10

    ”The fallout from a police officer who followed a car thinking the man behind the wheel was Native American is testing the fragility of race relations in a South Dakota city.

    The police officer in Rapid City resigned after he allegedly reported that “a young Native American male (was) driving a really new Mercedes car.” While city officials see the officer’s resignation in lieu of termination over alleged racial profiling as swift action and a sign of progress in a town with a long history of racial tensions, Indigenous organizers say the incident was not isolated.”

  8. O 2021-08-10

    Cory, could you clarify the adoption of standards process: Are the Noem revisions final? Is there a public hearing for these changes? Does the state Board of Education still need to adopt these?

  9. Richard Schriever 2021-08-10

    A twitter tweet from MN’s I-wanna-be-a-governor-too, Scott Jensen, claims Kristi is god-sent to save the nation – like the biblical figure Esther to Persia – and references the “200” years ago that we were colonies. He’s more to 45 years behind/off in his “understanding” of our nation’s history. I suppose the way most MAGATs frame US history is, the past 45 years – or was it the first 45 years? – are illegitimate?

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-08-10

    NoemThink sez, “Get this non-white history out of SD’s schools or else some liberal’s kid is gonna ask why white people stole the Indian’s land. Then kids are gonna start thinking it’s time to pay for what we stole. Not with money but with governmental change!”

  11. Mark Anderson 2021-08-10

    Whatever I was taught, looked up the real history, way back when. Now it’s so much easier to do that. If they go over the line with bull, it’s easy to see and check. Don’t worry folks, it will help the next generation to realize they are being feed a bowl of false hash. They will grow up hopefully enlightened by their own search and their awareness level will be much greater than ours. You can help by battling the propagandists like foxie news and the fascist press that appeal to the losers of now. Cory does this battle so well, its hard to say enough positives about the guy.

  12. V 2021-08-10

    Good point Cory, Noem can not prevent instructors from using the resources they already have. She can’t shut down the internet which is a huge source for educational instruction now. The last 3 years that I taught middle school social sciences, I only used a textbook as a last resort because they were all outdated, didn’t even have Obama included. It was a public school on the reservation so we were fortunate to have staff, elders, and tribal scholars to help us develop place based curriculum that followed the South Dakota Standards as well as the National Curriculum for Social Sciences. And once we moved instruction to the Promethean Boards and the students used laptops, all the books and teachers manuals got set on shelves.

    Noem must not know that there are Native American standards within the reading curriculum and where I taught within math and science. Placed based learning integrates all the subject areas and promotes spatial learning as well.

  13. bearcreekbat 2021-08-10

    As Mark says, anyone that “looked up the real history, way back when” was quite likely to find relatively few sources, with the majority being relatively accurate.

    Today, however, there are an almost infinite number of sources that purport to tell viewers the “truth” or “reality,” yet, as we know, too many of these sources find it profitable to present whatever fiction might generate the most clicks on links and the highest financial reward to the poster. This seems to have lead us to a plague of confirmation bias in which many folks only accept information from sources that say what they want to hear. Attempts to actually find objective reality seem to be becoming a passe objective for nearly half of the US population. Even those folks that seek objective reality must wade through the morass of disinformation out there to find credible sources.

  14. V 2021-08-10

    There are libraries, museums, newspapers, magazines, colleges, .edu sources,, TED Talks, Public Broadcasting,, and so many more than I don’t have time to list. Trust me, teachers are resourceful.

  15. Mark Anderson 2021-08-10

    Yeah I know bearcreekbat, but after looking and reading it’s easy to spot the Dales in the road.

  16. Lottie 2021-08-10

    Growing up on the rez, at school we were taught about how great Columbus was. We were told we Indians liked to scalp, hee hee. Our elders told us what they knew and it was hard to believe that we were probably the actual inhabitants of the land before the Mayflower landed. Today i tell me grandkids stories they will never learn at school.

  17. ds 2021-08-10

    The Electoral College debate? Nah…Republicans are over that discussion…now they are claiming the power of state legislators to over ride election results in case their new voter restrictions don’t go their way.

  18. Arlo Blundt 2021-08-11

    The Republicans are incessantly fiddling around with the election laws…this has to be a top issue for the Democrats in 2022 and beyond.

  19. John 2021-08-11

    The governess and her trolls show us, and the nation, why this nation needs to study CRT.
    This AP article smacks what’s wrong with the governess’ approach to changing the facts. Facts? Just ignore them.

    Commercial enterprises from the governess sacred motorcycle rally are also putting SD bigotry in the national news as vendors selling Nazi and racists crap – abusing the guise of freedom of speech.

  20. IO 2021-08-11

    As the father of a one year-old baby, I find myself wondering whether or not I will be living in SD (where I’ve lived my entire life) 4 years from now. As it is, I already have to essentially look through my six year-old’s school work for the week, and re-teach what’s been taught for the week fairly often. The way that my wife and I have been framing education is a kid friendly version of: Know the “correct” answers that your teachers are looking for so that you can keep your grades up, but understand that the version of history, and science that you are being taught is laced with propaganda, designed to sway your generation back into compliance with imperialist modes of operation.
    It’s too bad that I feel as if I need to teach my kids to fact check, and doubt their teachers. Our teachers are already overworked and underpaid, and now I have to saddle them with kids who don’t really believe what they are teaching. I do wish that someone had done so for me though. The sting of realizing I’d been lied to by the people who were supposed to be educating me, and some of the work that it took to deprogram myself could have been avoided.

  21. Rick Siegfried 2021-08-15

    These bureaucrats are criminal, anti-American TRAITORS. I HAVE to assume they are a bunch of tRumpers which makes them ignorant, fascist, anti-US Constitution, anti-American, seditious, criminal TRAITORS, and it is time they were treated as such. These despicable racists deserve to spend the rest of their worthless lives in prison for crimes against the state.

  22. Lisa Short Bull 2021-09-14

    I was born and raised in SD. I got a BA in English from USD with a minor in Native American Studies. I got my MA in Native American Studies. When I was getting my MA degree, I had a friend who was white (his description of himself, not mine) who was also earning his degree in Native American studies. We would often times go back and forth, arguing about who was right, concerning Native American issues. I finally said to him, “I want you to understand something. Look around at all of these students here. Each one has a chosen path. A chosen field. But you need to know this. When a student comes here and goes into a nursing program, when they graduate, they become a nurse. Or when an engineering student comes here and graduates, they become an engineer. But when you graduate, you will never be a Native American or an Indian. You can never be those things.” I continued to tell him that my education wasn’t going to be all that gave me the credibility to speak on Native Issues to large audiences, it was the fact that I am an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. We want to tell our version of history and we want feel comfortable in the classroom. I have a voice. I am not out in the margins like a side note, I’m right here, boldly speaking out to the Governor that she needs to listen objectively to people’s position on this topic and be constructive and positive in doing what is for the greatest and highest good of all South Dakotans. Universities teach some of the truths because of Academic Freedom to do that but k-12 doesn’t prepare our students to adequately join these conversations. Cutting out more of the curriculum that was carefully designed with Native input is a giant step backwards. I took a class in Critical Race Theory. It didn’t make me uncomfortable to have conversations with a diverse group. What makes me uncomfortable is people in power wanting to hide the truth. But this didn’t start with the removal of Native American history in k-12. Students need to know what that was about when Richard Henry Pratt said “Kill the Indian, save the man” Students need to know about Boarding Schools. Students need to know that discrimination is wrong. Students need to know that the more we learn about each and support each other and respect each other, the better our chances of building a stronger, better America. College American history research papers can be better written when the facts of all sides of are considered. Our students here in South Dakota have a right to be taught Native American history the way Native Americans feel it should be taught. I come from a long line of Lakota Chiefs. My Great Grandfather fought in the Battle of the Little Big Horn and brought back the Ghost Dance. My other Great Grandfather discovered Wind Cave which is part of our creation story. I am South Dakota history. I am also part of Native American history. It’s important, and it matters.

  23. kurtz 2021-09-14

    “Alaska, with a Native American population of 14.8%, leads the nation in percentage of Indigenous residents; New Mexico is second with 8.9%; South Dakota third with 8.4%; Montana fourth, 6%; North Dakota fifth, 4.8%.” Indian Country Today.

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