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SDEA Begins Response to Noem’s Anti-Education Agenda

I gave the South Dakota Education Association heck last month for failing to respond vigorously to Governor Kristi Noem’s spate of culture war bills, three of which issued in December target the credibility, autonomy, and morality of public education. Not until Noem issued her fourth bird-flip to schools, her hypocritical and overreaching proposal to block schools from teaching practical civics, did the state’s teachers’ union raise its voice against Noem’s anti-education agenda.

On Tuesday, SDEA president Loren Paul issued this response to the Governor’s State of the State Address. Paul doesn’t specifically mention any of her four anti-education bills—promoting prayer in school, banning transgender kids from playing with their gender-appropriate teams, banning what Noem mistakenly calls critical race theory, and banning action civics—and he only generally addresses half of that vile agenda:

No matter what we look like, where we live, or what is in our wallets, most of us want our public schools and educators to inspire imagination, cultivate critical thinking, and ensure our students can live fulfilling lives and thrive. Educators and parents agree that South Dakota must focus on having well-resourced schools where students have the freedom to learn with an education that prepares them for the future.

To prepare children for that future, we need to teach them both the good and the bad of our history so we can avoid making the same mistakes. Educators want to provide every student an accurate and quality education, but we need the tools and resources to do that.

Instead of proposing divisive legislation that will only lead to state censorship of the lessons our children learn, we urge Governor Noem to work with South Dakota’s educators to make sure every school has the funding necessary to provide South Dakota’s students the education they deserve, which is an honest and accurate education that enables them to learn from the mistakes of our past to help create a better future [Loren Paul, SDEA press release, 2022.01.11].

That statement is better than the silence with which SDEA ceded the floor to Noem and her anti-education cronies for a month. And the call to focus on working together to give education practical support instead of dividing communities and undermining public education makes moral and political sense. But it’s not enough to say, “Let’s focus on the budget.” South Dakota’s teachers and kids need SDEA to follow up by saying…

  1. Kids can already pray whenever they want; mandating a moment of prayer is unnecessary and unconstitutional.
  2. Transgender kids have rights and aren’t hurting school sports or anything else. Noem needs to get out of kids’ pants.
  3. Critical race theory is valid and useful but not the focus of any curriculum in South Dakota; government banning ideas is bad for education and bad for America.
  4. Action civics is the most effective civics education possible; teaching civics strictly from a textbook is bad practice.

SDEA, expand your defense of public education against every prong of Noem’s assault on teachers and students. SDEA leaders and teachers everywhere, make those points loudly and daily in the lobbies and committee rooms in Pierre, in interviews with every reporter you can find, and in crackerbarrels and other events back home with your local legislators.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-01-13

    Democratic New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is “proposing increases in the minimum pay for teachers across three tiers of experience levels. Minimum salaries for entry-level teachers would increase from $41,000 to $50,000. That would make starting teachers the highest paid in the region unless other states raise wages before the fall.”

  2. sx123 2022-01-13

    I hadn’t heard of the term ‘Critical Race Theory’ until some Republicans latched onto it, for whatever reason, and made it an issue.
    It’s my understanding that CRT is more of an upper education (college) level topic and not applicable/not discussed in high-school and below.
    (If Noem et al want to put controls on college level classes, that’s a non-starter. College should be wide open imo).

    If something happened in the past, it happened, and no reason to put filters on other than maybe some basic age-appropriate controls.

  3. Donald Pay 2022-01-13

    I think SDEA has the right attitude, actually. School district have had policy on teaching controversial subjects for decades. Teachers do a good job of it. There is no need for this sort of legislative cancel culture.

    Students in debate or speech would be hampered by not being able to learn about CRT. How are they going to compete at any national events or events in Minnesota if they can’t access materials on CRT and use them in policy debate or extemp or Lincoln-Douglas or other events?

    Here’s an idea for debaters. Call it “action civics.” On the few weekends you have off from competing debaters should go to legislative crackerbarrels to ask questions, provide information and generally explain how destructive this legislation could be. On take a trip to Pierre. Have a “debaters day,” where you go to hearings and provide the information.

    Debaters have to know the pros and cons of any topic they take up. Not only would Noem’s bill hinder debaters from gathering information on the pro side of CRT, it would prevent them from accessing information on the con side as well.

  4. cibvet 2022-01-13

    Donald’s idea of going to cracker barrels and hearings in Pierre are excellent ideas, but one should push to have the students set up debates with the politicians at the cracker barrel or better yet, a debate with the governor on different subjects of her choosing so as not for her to cry foul when she loses.

  5. Richard Schriever 2022-01-13

    sx123, actually CRT is taught at the GRADUATE level and almost exclusively in LAW SCHOOLS. Not only is it not taught in K-12, but it is also typically not taught at bachelor’s level. There may be an exception if one is taking PRE-LAW courses.

  6. bearcreekbat 2022-01-13

    As I understand the historical definition of “critical race theory” Richard is correct. CRT helps explain such concepts as “disparate impact” as a legal theory when questioning government actions. There the focus is not on what government officials claim a policy does, but on the actual effect of that policy, including a policy purportedly “neutral on its face” that as implimented actually results is unlawful discrimination. Thus CRT is a legal subject taught primarily to current and prospective law students.

    The problem, however, is newspeak. Current Republican power brokers have managed to create a simpler but quite different definition that triggers a “oh no you don’t” emotional response. The idea that someone is responsible for the sins of their predecessors, or that one race is better or worse than another, or that anyone should feel guilty about the past, is simply not part of the basic definition of CRT.

  7. Porter Lansing 2022-01-13

    White kids wonder about why black, brown, Indian, Asian etc. kids think differently, than white kids think.
    Not exposing white kids to what molded minority kid’s thinking leads to a “You’re wrong.” answer.
    It’s “not knowing why” that’s wrong.

  8. Mark Anderson 2022-01-13

    All you have to do is say there is no racism. The laugh you would get from teenagers would give the game away. This stategy from the pubs is so short term that the blowback will be very, very fun to watch. CRT kids, just look it up, does it look like reality to you. Its that simple.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-13

    Mark, for that blowback to matter, those kids need to turn 18, register, and vote en masse. To get them to vote en masse, we need SDEA and other influential, freedom- and education-loving organizations to explain loudly, clearly, and every day, from every billboard and social media channel, why Noem and the SDGOP are the real culture cancelers and why they must be removed from office as soon as electorally possible.

    Young South Dakotans, after doing your homework and graduating, voting Democratic in November may be the most important thing you do this year.

  10. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-13

    Well…it appears We have to turn to teenagers to defend academic freedom. Time for reasonable adults to step up.

  11. DaveFN 2022-01-13

    Noem’s approach to education is to make everyone “read” the Declaration of Independence. Par for a fundamentalist to go no further than reading, stopping short of anything that resembles thinking.

    So let the students read it. Nothing to prevent the best of teachers to actually unpack it with their students:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

    Self-evident: how so? To whom?
    Men created equal: Why men? Is “equal” an ideal? It isn’t anything we witness in reality.
    Endowed: Biologically? Culturally? Otherwise? When? By whom?
    Creator: Which specific creator is that? What is the meaning of “creator” and why must a creator be invoked to endow this?
    Certain: What is the meaning of this word? Some? Absolute?
    Inalienable: How does this differ from alienable?
    Rights: Natural rights? What does this mean? Are rights found in nature? Discuss Platonic idealism and Aristotelean realism.
    Pursuit of Happiness: What societal constraints exist on such a pursuit?

  12. Donald Pay 2022-01-14

    DaveFN, Garry Wills’ book “Inventing America” looks at Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration in much the way you suggest. He looked at the intellectual history of some of the words and concepts in the Declaration and how people in Jefferson’s time, given the intellectual understanding of the time, viewed these words. Jefferson, of course, was extremely upset with some of the changes made to his draft, not because of pride of authorship as much as by the way they twisted his intellectual thrust.

    I absolutely agree with you that you can’t read the Declaration today without struggling to understand what these words mean today and what they meant to Jefferson and his generation.

  13. larry kurtz 2022-01-16

    Follow the money.

    “The CNP partners’ long-term strategy identified some 17 million politically unengaged evangelicals, many concentrated in swing states, and sought ways to drive them to the polls. Focus groups found that this demographic could be motivated by scare tactics involving abortion and LGBT rights. These voters have been bombarded with falsehoods: Democrats conspire to “execute babies on the day of their birth”; schoolchildren face a mortal danger of sexual assault by transgender people using public restrooms.”

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