South Dakota’s Republican legislators are dragging South Dakota’s schools and universities into authoritarian thought control, but on the bright side, they appear to be recognizing that Governor Kristi Noem’s school censorship laws are badly written and go too far.
House Education met twice yesterday, holding its regular meeting at 7:45, then having to come back for an extra inning at 3 p.m. The marquee items before them were the Governor’s two bills restricting the things South Dakota students and teachers can learn about: House Bill 1012, which purported to protect students at all levels from “critical race theory”, and House Bill 1337, which purported to protect K-12 students from “political indoctrination” and “divisive concepts”. House Education wrought several changes to both bills; the changes to HB 1012 are so extensive that the bill has made the LRC’s hoghouse report.
HB 1012 originally applied to all Regental schools, vo-techs, and state-accredited school districts. HB 1337 seemingly overlapped HB 1012 by applying to elementary and secondary schools. House Education decided to separate the bills, amending HB 1012 to apply solely to higher education.
House Education expanded HB 1012 to apply to employees as well as students in higher education. But in a profound watering down of Noem’s school censorship, the committee narrowed the scope of HB 1012’s ban on open intellectual discourse to “training or orientation that teaches, advocates, acts upon, or promotes divisive concepts.” The committee added Section 5 to exclude classroom content and conduct, questions raised by participants at mandatory trainings and orientations and responses given by leaders of those events, and any other student or employee exercise of First Amendment rights. HB 1012 still attempts to chill free speech that Republicans find threatening, but this amendment shows the committee recognizes that, as written, this bill would have led the Governor and the state to another courtroom embarrassment.
House Education tried to resolve HB 1012’s violation of the South Dakota Constitution’s title-subject rule by writing “critical race theory” into the bill itself with this declaration:
The inherently divisive concepts underlying Critical Race Theory are contrary to our values, do not reflect the truth that all men and women are created equal, and should not be promoted or imposed by student or employee training or orientation in South Dakota’s public institutions of higher education [HB 1012, Amendment 1012A, language approved then stricken by House Education, 2022.02.09].
House Education then grafted into HB 1012 the roster of “divisive concepts” from HB 1337, thus putting into the law some textual connection between the declared subject of the bill and its actual content. But then the committee yanked the opening mission statement back out, leaving “critical race theory” undefined and unmentioned in the active clauses of the bill and thus leaving the bill open to the separate, technical grounds that its title does not address its subject. (And hey, would anyone like to ply the single-subject grounds? Students and employees? Orientations and trainings?)
While not hoghousing House Bill 1337, House Education still saw the need to run for cover on the Governor’s now distinctly K-12 thought control bill. While maintaining the prohibition on “curricula, instruction, standards, or training that promotes a divisive concept, or which directs or compels students or employees to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to a divisive concept”, the committee added language making clear that school district employees may still discuss divisive concepts “as part of a larger course of instruction… in an objective manner and without endorsement” (still problematic: teachers can discuss the Holocaust, but they can’t tell kids, “So don’t be Nazis”) and may still preside over student debates of divisive concepts.
House Education then ripped out five sections of Noem’s originally nine-section HB 1337. They struck Noem’s opening but feckless declaration of intent to ban injection of politics into the classroom (again, what is it with Republican resistance to injections?). More substantively, they struck Noem’s ban on giving kids academic credit for participating in community affairs and writing letters to elected officials. They struck Noem’s ban on service learning and internships that include work on public policy or social causes. They struck Noem’s curious ban on private donations to support social studies curriculum and teacher training, which would have banned teachers from buying books and classroom materials for their kids.
Both bills passed as amended on 13–2 votes, all Republicans for, both Democrats against. The committee thus sends to the House floor two bills that do significantly less harm, both intended and unintended, than Noem’s original sloppy written flailings would have. However, both bills still impose ridiculous Republican snowflakery and a chilling effect on teacher and student speech. Both bills still deserve defeat on the House or Senate floor, referral and rejection at the ballot box, or court injunction and repeal.
CRT is but a Trojan Horse being used to conceal all manner of critical theories from being taught and critical theorists from being read since critical theory has as main objective to reveal and challenge power structures.
And that’s a long list of theorists and writers over a broad swath of thought:
Noem’s education bills are difficult to oversee and will probably only be used when some parent has a gripe with a teacher. Matthew Hawn is an example. Hawn from Kingsport, TN was fired for teaching about White privilege at a high school in rural Tennessee.
“All men and women are created equal” is an aspirational statement of hope and guidance — it is not a “truth.” In fact, it is that aspiration that requires CRT to investigate and expose instances of people of color NOT being treated as equals (as compared to their white counterparts).
Part of me, albeit a VERY SMALL part of me, has a tinge of sympathy for the committee trying to convert the Governor’s campaign rhetoric into actual governance direction in law. Given the nibbling around the edges of so many of these controversial issues, the audacity of the rhetoric is nowhere close to the scope of the legislation, which is the most clear indication that no majority actually wants to do what is being trumpeted.
If I drop a bit of water into that cow pie on your plate, would you eat it? I don’t know about you, but I think cow pie is inedible no matter how much water you add. Still I appreciate that legislators took the time to excise some of the fecal material before placing it before me to politely decline.
When I was a school kid we wrote letters to the Sioux Falls mayor about getting a stoplight on Minnesota Avenue, where kids crossed that busy roadway on the way to Mark Twain Elementary. I’m not sure if we got credit for our letters, but we got practice in letter writing, as well as learning a bit about how to respectfully ask for some public works project from our city fathers (they were all fathers back then). Then later we invited the mayor to a soup lunch, which we made by chopping up various vegetables that we had been learning about. I’m not sure if this was a lobbying lunch or a thank you lunch, but we did get that stoplight. As Minnesota Avenue became even more well traveled though the years, we, the letter-writing kids at Mark Twain, may have saved kids’ lives over the years by having that stoplight there. Why would you ban action civics?
The House Education committee made a good start at rendering Noem’s poisonous bill less so but it still needs to die on the floor.
Donald, Minnesota was tough to cross, my old friend Tony White lost his loaned bike by the Y. I always tried to envision what the kid looked like after seeing that bike.
Mark, No kidding. I used to cross Minnesota on foot and on my bike, but I didn’t have to cross it to get to school. In sixth grade I was a crossing guard at that stoplight. We had to push the button for the little kids and make sure they got across. Even with the stoplight, it was scary.
I think it was that experience that made me very receptive when parents in Rapid City came to the school board to ask for a stoplight for their kids. We got a couple of those put in when I was on the school board. Usually those kinds of decisions seem to be slow rolled through the city, but we were able to speed up the process.
Yeah I always went to the movies downtown, the Egyptian, Hollywood, and State, went to the Y all the time. I went to Irving and had to cross 12th which was busy too. Lived at 307 South Summit, three blocks from the Y. My basic learning was look left, look right and run like hell. Going to First Lutheran was a piece of cake. I believe the accident was in 1962. Scary, still remember that mangled bike. Didn’t know the kid who was killed. Now showing that bike at all the schools would have been a divisive concept.
I lived on the corner of 15th and Prairie in the ’60’s, went to Lowell, and was also a crossing guard on 18th – the route to Sioux valley Hosp. and attended all those movie theaters too. “Ben Hur” at the Egyptian – wow!!
One of my little sisters had her bike hit when crossing 11th one day. We always dismounted and walked them across because of that traffic . She was little and a little slower to the rest of us, and some jerk nailed the back wheel – right behind her. Luckily she was not hurt – just really really scared. After that we stopped going North of 12th altogether.
Yeah Richard, it seems a number of us old farts used to live close when we were youngsters. I forgot it was 11th St that was tough, just lived less than a block off it. Started school at Lincoln which no longer exists but was almost a mile away. Finally got transfered in the second grade to Irving two blocks away which they recently tore down. Lowell I used to walk by all the time. My dad worked with the Rangels dad and they lived nearby Lowell on Summit and probably went there too.
Loved Sioux Falls back then. We were all downtown boys.
If House Education hadn’t struck Section 6 of HB 1337, they’d have jeopardized Pat Gainey’s successful “We the People” civics program at Spearfish High School, which has used the curriculum provided by the non-profit Center for Civic Education for 25 years to give Spearfish seniors outstanding classroom learning and travel experience to support civics education.
Translation: Noem hates civics education.