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Noem Would Ban Real-World Civics Education, Reduce Teaching of Community Involvement to Theoretical Exercises

L’état, c’est moi, pas nous

In past Legislative Sessions, Governor Kristi Noem claimed that she wanted to expand civics education to get students more involved in their community:

“Today we have an opportunity to address the root cause of this problem: we must reform young Americans’ civic education,” she wrote in a prepared statement. “Students should be taught our nation’s history and all that makes America unique. They should see first hand the importance of civic engagement. They should have robust discussions in the classroom so they can develop critical thinking skills. Our young people need more experience engaging with elected officails and practicing the art of debate. It is also our responsibility to show them how government works” [Gov. Kristi Noem, excerpt from 2021 State of the State Address, in Wendy Pitlick, “Local Teachers React to Noem’s Call for Civics Education Reform,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2021.01.19]

Evidently Governor Noem has joined her Republican colleagues in deeming increased involvement in civic affairs is too dangerous to her selfish authoritarian agenda. In her latest culture-war distraction, Noem proposes reducing the scope of civics education by eliminating opportunities for hands-on civics engagement. In a new draft bill seeking to “protect students from action civics,” Noem proposes banning the following activities from classroom instruction in any public university, vo-tech (come on—the vo-techs aren’t teaching anything but auto mechanics and nurse tech), or state-accredited K-12 school district that would would involve these activities:

  1. promoting, opposing, influencing passage, sponsoring, or introducing any ballot measure, law, administrative rule, or city or county ordinance or resolution;
  2. influencing votes for any candidate for public office;
  3. influencing any public official
  4. expressing any particular position for or against an idea or action in a public, organized demonstration.

Noem’s bill says this ban on political speech in school activities would not include simulated protest or lobbying in a school setting. Nor, says the bill, should it be read as a ban on students exercising their freedom of speech on their own. (Noem will suppress voluntary individual expression through extra-legal means.)

But Governor Noem would forbid teachers from requiring students to engage in authentic acts of civic engagement. Teachers could not require students to write letters to the editor for actual publication. Teachers who take students to Pierre to observe the Legislature could not require that students make the day meaningful by engaging in and recording conversations with at least three legislators and stating their opinions on specific bills. Teachers could not direct students to draft local ordinances and send them to city council members to urge them to build a skate park or a youth shooting range or install stop lights and crosswalks near the school or start a police cadet ride-along program. Teachers could not assign students to make their opinions known on any matter of public interest in any public, organized, demonstrative fashion.

Read strictly, that last provision banning public, organized demonstrations for or against any idea or action could outlaw public pep rallies. Imagine: students herded into a public space, required by their mere presence to show their support for the idea that the Bulldogs are the best and urging the action of winning Friday’s basketball game—please! Stop the indoctrination! Ban those pep rallies!

Just as she misunderstands critical race theory, Governor Noem is mistranslating the term “action civics” to mean “leftists turning our kids in Communists.” “Action civics” simply means giving kids hands-on experience in authentic community affairs. Pretending students can learn about voting and legislating and governing strictly by reading books, doing worksheets, and listening to state-prescribed lectures on American exceptionalism is as foolish as suggesting that kids can learn carpentry entirely through textbooks, computer simulations, and their teacher’s stories about the time he got a scratch awl stuck in his femur.

Real civics education, with practical experience in public expression, would get more kids involved in civic affairs. The fact that even some of those kids would get involved in public expression of ideas and policies that Governor Noem doesn’t like is too much for Governor Noem to bear. Thus, she must outlaw real civics education and remove one more source of opposition to her self-serving propaganda machine.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-01-11

    Mrs. Noem is shameless in her fundraising grift. Recall that at Noem’s behest Wyoming’s Foster Friess gave $500,000 to a gaggle of religionist organizations in South Dakota.

    South Dakota’s governor will take part in a Republican fundraiser in Teton County next month. The “formal event” with Gov. Kristi Noem will be held Feb. 18 at the Four Seasons hotel in Teton Village, according to a Teton County GOP email Friday. Individual tickets for the “Patriots Dinner” are $500, and tables of 10 cost $5,000. About 190 tickets have sold in the past month, county party chairwoman Mary Martin told the Casper Star-Tribune.

  2. John 2022-01-11

    NOem’s early legislative proposals are jokes failing to address any of South Dakota’s problems or needs. Her proposals are nonsensical political pablum.

    The FSD mayor on Monday, said the two biggest needs are housing and child care. When NOem fails to address the top two needs of the state’s largest city, then NOem shows she’s irrelevant and acting illegitimately.

    It will be interesting watching the NOem comedy hour (state address) this afternoon.

  3. Donald Pay 2022-01-11

    This is dumbing down education so the authoritarians can have a malleable citizen base for tyranny. If that’s your goal, your Governor is going about it the right way. It’s just the opposite of what needs to happen if you want an engaged citizenry.

    If you want students to learn civics, nothing is better than real world experience. We’ve got science labs and science fairs specifically for the purpose of giving students real world experience in the sometimes frustrating nuts and bolts of science. You don’t learn to read well by never picking up a book. You don’t learn about sex by….wait, any analogy can be taken too far. And I think this is what should concern us, not whether civics education should involve real world experience. Obviously students should not be directed by a teacher to a certain intervention on a certain position on an issue or candidate or party. But, they should be encouraged to get involved in issues of concern to them.

    When I was in high school in the late 1960s, students had good instruction in American Government. I had a great young teacher, Mr. Hoff (students called him “Jack Hoff,” but Jack wasn’t his real first name). We had lively discussions about whether women were equal to men. As good as he was as a teacher and as lively as our discussions could get, the best education in American Government and civics I got was volunteering for the McCarthy for President campaign and the McGovern for Senate campaign. The school actually gave me a few days out of class to do this, as they did with other kids who worked on the Republican side. I learned so much about canvasing neighborhoods, phoning voters to get out the vote, distributing campaign literature and pounding in campaign signs in frozen lawns. I learned that politics was a dirty business where you had to get your hands dirty, but hopefully, not your morality. Back then it was done in low-rent, dusty, old downtown buildings with old linoleum lifting up off the floors and clanking steam furnaces and non-existent air conditioning. The big-shots, by which I mean the drudge that got the barely paying job out of college to direct the Sioux Falls campaign office, were constantly on the phone to DC, or the state office or some other big shot. They had a few minutes to discuss issues with us–Vietnam, civil rights, etc. Then we were given our tasks do do, errands to run, etc. There was always a crisis of some small kind and some on-the-fly fix to do, and we grunts often got to do it. That’s what I learned from my “hands-on civics” education: campaigns and governments are always in a state of crisis and everyone needs to pitch in. That was the main lesson I learned, but it was so much more valuable than sitting in a classroom “Jacking Hoff.”

  4. Richard Schriever 2022-01-11

    IMHO – the best way to teach kids about “all that makes America unique” is to send them on a foreign exchange year of study/experience. But what do I, or anyone else who has lived or even traveled to other “non-unique” countries know?

  5. O 2022-01-11

    I am shocked, SHOCKED, I say. How dare our Governor use the phrasing, ” Students should be taught our nation’s history and all that makes America unique.” “Unique??!!” How about GREAT! What kind of new era woke is the use of “unique?”

  6. Cathy B 2022-01-11

    Don’t we have enough trouble attracting teachers to our state already?

  7. Porter Lansing 2022-01-11

    Governor Noem is indeed a shallow furrow.
    This was tried in SD schools in the late 60’s, too.
    Teachers were forbidden from giving anti-Vietnam War speeches.
    Teachers, however, are smarter than the average SD politician.
    What engaged teachers did was to simply recite the administrative ban (on their free speech) to the students.
    Anyone dealing with teenagers knows full well that all it takes to get them engaged, as a group, is to tell them they can’t become engaged as a group.
    We protested like all get out and helped end the war and save hundreds of thousands of lives.

  8. Donald Pay 2022-01-11

    Porter, Teachers can have their own views, but they do have to be careful to not force those views down students throats. I had teachers who were on different sides of the Vietnam War issue, but I never knew it at the time. I took a Current Events class where we discussed the war almost every class period. I never knew the teacher’s views. He just led us in discussion. We had some pretty hawkish kids in that class, along with some of us who were doves. He had hard questions for both sides to consider. Like many folks from the WWII generation, I think he was conflicted about the Vietnam War, wanting to support the troops, but not sure about the policy. It was a tough time for teachers to teach. Kind of like these days.

  9. O 2022-01-11

    Donald, I would agree with the caution for teachers to not force political ideology down student’s throats; however, this argument ignores the elephant (specifically the GOP elephant) in the room of textbook selection. The right’s work in determining the content of our schools’ history and social studies textbooks means that the fix is already in. If a teacher were to express the “other side” of right-biased texts, the labels of CRT or woke or biased start to fly.

  10. Mark Anderson 2022-01-11

    It’s easy folks, facts are always on the liberal side. I was in debate in high school and our coach the stinker that he was put my friend and I on the negative side which was conservative naturally. We actually won most of the time. It’s so easy being a conservative. The status quo is what it is. Not rewarding although some of the breakfasts were fine.

  11. V 2022-01-11

    Let’s get this right. Is Noem our religious advisor, clueless governor, AND social science expert?

    She needs to get off her high horse and quit preaching and teaching. I am offended that my alma mater, SDSU, gave her a degree but I worked my butt off for 4 summers in a row while teaching full time.

    I’d like to see Noem’s scores on any civics exams from any SD High School or Middle School, perhaps elementary.

  12. John 2022-01-11

    Cory, Rayguns has the T-shirt for you and fellow teachers.

    Of course, the last thing needed in civics education is watering down the nation’s founding, violence, exploitation of colonization and subjugation of the native population. I earlier linked to the Army Captain’s letters from witnessing the Sand Creek Massacre. The republicans recently had an Indiana state senator apologize for arguing to teach a moral equivalency of the national socialist system vs western democracy. Consider the historical record of the contemporaneous accounts of finding the concentration camps. TEACH THIS IN HIGH SCHOOL CIVICS. Students should puke as did General ‘Blood and Guts’ George S. Patton.

    Ideals are peaceful. History is violent. – Brad Pitt as SSG Daddy Warbucks, in Fury.

  13. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-11

    William O. Farber Ph.D. is spinning in his grave as the Governor proposes to cancel out his lifetime of teaching in South Dakota. Time for the “Farber boys” to rise up and smote Governor Noem’s blighted legislation.

  14. grudznick 2022-01-11

    If Mr. Brokaw were to go to Pierre and do the testifying in the legislatures that would weigh heavy on the minds of the fellows who were cowed by the glowering specter of Mr. Carson who loomed over them today. You could see on the teevee how cowed most were and many were genuflecting and taking movies on their pocket phones. Mr. Brokaw needs to go to Pierre to do this smiting that Mr. Blundt suggests.

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