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Fewer Teachers, More Conservatives! Four Months Late, Noem Announces K-12 Social Studies Standards Panel

The fix is in for South Dakota’s social studies standards. After rejecting last fall a 46-person workgroup’s draft of K-12 social studies standards that gave Indians and critical inquiry too much attention, and after getting over 150 applicants who wanted to join a new standards workgroup that was supposed to start its work early last winter, Noem today picked 15 people to meet May 4 and start writing social studies standards more to her liking. The chosen few:

  • Mark Miller, Chair of Commission
  • Joe Circle Bear
  • Janet Finzen
  • Stephanie Hiatt
  • Benjamin F. Jones, Ph.D. – State Historian
  • Dylan Kessler
  • Aaron Levisay
  • Christopher Motz
  • Shaun Nielsen
  • Fred Osborn – State Director of Indian Education
  • Jon Schaff
  • Mary Shuey
  • State Representative Tamara St. John
  • Samantha Walder
  • State Senator John Wiik

After Shaun Nielsen and Fred Osborn are the only two members of the original Social Studies Standards Workgroup who made it onto the new standards commission.

Where the original 46-member panel had just one legislator, Republican Senator Jim Bolin, the new 15-member panel has two, Republican Representative Tamara St. John and Republican Senator John Wiik. Noem has also rigged the panel with her former Education Secretary, now nicely sinecured conservative state historian Dr. Ben Jones. Dakota Valley teacher Mary Shuey has served as a Republican party official in Union County under SDGOP chair Dan Lederman. Winnebago school teacher Janet Finzen is a Republican neighbor of Lederman in Dakota Dunes. The panel includes two Aberdeen conservatives: Dylan Kessler is a former Thune staffer with no professional background in education, while Dr. Jon Schaaf professes political science at Northern and will ensure no liberal philosophy sneaks into the standards.

And chairing the panel is Noem’s own chief of staff, former Florida lawyer Mark Miller, who will make sure our K-12 social studies teachers portray transgender activism and other nefarious influences as terrorism.

The committee includes at least two tribal members, Rep. St. John of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and Joe Circle Bear of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Noem must feel safe with Circle Bear: she hosted a tribal Round Dance at the Capitol in 2021 and had Circle Bear master the ceremony.

But while the original workgroup was dominated by working South Dakota K-12 teachers, Noem’s smaller group appears to have only two active South Dakota K-12 teachers (Nielsen and Shuey; Finzen teaches in Nebraska) and one active South Dakota K-12 administrator (Samantha Walder, Tea Legacy Elementary).

Noem’s picks make clear what the focus of this committee will be, and it won’t be practical classroom social studies standards guided by working teachers.


  1. Amy B. 2022-04-22

    She is trying to “DeSantis” this process. Unless she agrees with the subject matter in those standards she will attempt to label them as ‘divisive’ or they fit her warped definition of CRT. The fact that she decided the work of over 40 educators and historians was subpar and this new hand picked group of 15 and only 2 of them are teachers will be better is insane.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2022-04-22

    Well…it is obviously a political task force seeking a political product to foist upon the schools, not an education committee concerned with curriculum and instruction. Pity the children.

  3. Kyle 2022-04-22

    Based on the report of someone who applied and was interviewed, this group also is not even creating the standards. The group is basically being hand-picked to rubber stamp a curriculum being developed at the ultra-conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan.

  4. grudznick 2022-04-22

    grudznick, too, is disappointed at not being picked. I was probably too intensely exuberant on my application. I will be watching this group closely.

  5. mike from iowa 2022-04-22

    magats don’t give a damn if students learn anything as long as it fits the magat mold and is useless in preparing public school students for life’s difficulties.

    I have it on good authority that not even buzzards would pick Grudzilla. DeSanitized and magats are flat out making stuff up about rejected math books in Floriduh and Noem likely wants ther same for South Duhkoduh.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-22

    Kyle, I’d like to hear from your source! Has Hillsdale College published any sample K-12 standards?

  7. Mark Anderson 2022-04-22

    Kyle, are you sure this isn’t being developed by and for the foxies on tv. Orwell was from England too just like the foxies. All you have to do is tell the youngsters, who are well groomed I’m sure to look up CRT with three little touches. Then they can lookup Stonewall with just a few more. Conservative Repubs that think they can control thought, blows your mind doesn’t it. Laughable all the way.

  8. grudznick 2022-04-22

    Everyone knows a work group of 46 is just plumb dumb unlucky and unwieldy. This new group seems more agile and wieldy.

  9. John 2022-04-22

    Good seeing some Indian representation, though not enough.
    It’s wrong, unfortunate not seeing more college history professors on the workgroup – to help determine a level of minimum student attributes.

    Crack this, most workgroup members, by cracking open their forbears. Cracking open the forebears of working group members will stop bigotry in its tracks. One of mine “made his mark” on his citizenship application in 1840 and then again “made his mark” on his citizenship document in1845. Four of his grandsons served in WWI. One of his grandsons became a professor (NDSU, Dakota Wesleyan, Presentation); two of his great grandsons served with distinction in WWII and the Korea War, then became a state supreme court justice and a dentist. Alternatively, run the genealogy on the noem line — they weren’t royalty, tories, or gifted.

    Immigrants matter. The US is unable to fill jobs now because of a lack of immigrants.

  10. Arlo Blundt 2022-04-22

    Well…I predicted the Hillsdale Curriculum would be in the mix a few months ago and believe it focuses more on thought control than critical thinking. Critical thinking and questioning the genesis of our history are important skills. So is an appreciation for courage, bravery, resilience, fortitude, and loyalty to ideals but these are not the only foundations for a curriculum. Acknowledgement of human frailty, the predominance of greed as a motivator, and the influence of our competitive nature also plays a big part in how our history and our institutions have formed and now function. I have no faith in Governor Noem or this committee chaired by a political hack on the make. I question their motives. Pity the children, pity the teachers.

  11. mike from iowa 2022-04-23

    I can say with confidence POC and Native Americans can’t wait to hear whitey mansplain to them the benevolence they have enjoyed from wasicus.

  12. Richard Schriever 2022-04-23

    I wonder what their measure of “goodness” is related to K-12 kids. The 40% poverty rate?

  13. Donald Pay 2022-04-23

    Hillsdale isn’t a credible outfit. They claim to be “Christian,” but really they are part of the extreme right-wing money shakedown. Jesus would have turned over the tables in that place. They run a money-making “university,” and hire some actual real scholars as a front for bilking money from college-aged students and their parents.

    For a number of years I received regular begging emails, soliciting donations for their causes, which varied depending on what is making the most money at the time. They started hitting the big time in dollars with the anti-CRT mania, and got Trump to spend federal dollars on a fake history project, which Noem seems to think is what South Dakota students should have. They make money from Christian schools and some of the homeschool community, but want to foist their brand of shallow/false history onto the public schools. That’s where the big money is, and they want a cut of it.

    Noem, of course, has been at Hillsdale, collecting her own money from the righty money trough. I expect she will get a big kickback for her campaign(s) if she can lead the sheep on that standards workgroup to rubberstamp her Hillsdale plans.

    It’s all about the money. History has nothing to do with it.

  14. grudznick 2022-04-23

    Mr. Pay is right, Jesus would have flung the tables about like a wild man in the mail room of the legislatures.

  15. mike from iowa 2022-04-23

    Wonder what the connection is between Hillsdale’s 1776 project and magats use of code word 1776 as a call to arms?

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-24

    Hillsdale College produced its 1776 Curriculum to react against what Trumpists like Noem call “critical race theory” and to respond specifically to the 1619 project, which places slavery at the center of America’s history. Yet slavery is at the center of Hillsdale’s historical narrative: it was founded in 1844 by abolitionists.

    There’s no escaping history, Kristi.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-24

    HIllsdale president Larry Arnn chaired Trump’s 1776 Commission, which Trump tasked with creating just such a propagandistic social studies curriculum. Hillsdale VP Matthew Spalding was the commission’s executive director.

    If Noem’s curriculum committee picks the Hillsdale curriculum, they are giving Noem a pure sop to Trump, a blatant plea for him to pick her as his 2024 running mate. They are whoring out our schools to Noem’s ambitions.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-24

    Hillsdale College is in Michigan, but Hillsdale has built a religious studies center in Somers, Connecticut. Some locals see through Hillsdale’s propaganda and tell us what our schools, teachers, and students will suffer if South Dakota adopts this sham:

    Giselle Genece, chairwoman of Somers Advocates for Social Justice — an organization that seeks to promote social equality in town — said it’s unfortunate that Hillsdale has already made its home in Somers because of its association with Trump and the 1776 Commission.

    “The objective of a school like Hillsdale College is to destroy democracy and towns like Somers,” she said. “This town is already dealing with the same racism that strangles many towns and cities in this country.”

    Genece continued that she believes that Hillsdale’s “positive patriotism” as expressed in the 1776 Report is a “code for proliferating white supremacists’ lies and ideals that glorify slavery and servitude and that defend America’s racist past.”

    Donna Jo Kibbe, a teacher who lives in Somers, said the report “reads like a cringe-worthy propaganda piece — white men patting the backs of other white men to keep themselves and other ‘patriotic’ white men at the center of all that is, what they’ve deemed as, American.”

    She added that she doesn’t want Hillsdale or the 1776 Report to have a part in public school education in Somers, particularly as she has two high school-aged children and one who will be entering kindergarten in the fall [Erika M. Purdy, “History lesson: Hillsdale’s role in Trump’s debunked 1776 Report draws mixed reaction in Somers,” Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer, updated 2021.03.24].

    Again, sounds right up Noem’s alley.

  19. CK 2022-04-24

    I wondered if Hillsdale was where this was headed…And Kyle has confirmed my suspicions.

    How do we fight this?

  20. James Cadwell 2022-04-24

    Stacked deck, hand pick from her personal list. I only received one conformation note that I was on the list. Have not received anything since. The group has already received their warning when Governor ignored last groups recommendation. Get off your knees people!

  21. Elizabeth P 2022-04-24

    With Mark Miller, imported from some conservative cesspool, as chairman of the commission & her 5th chief of staff, seems like she’s making sure it all goes her way.

  22. grudznick 2022-04-24

    Ms. Elizabeth P, like grudznick do you suspect there is a 6th chief of the staff being groomed somewhere within the shadows of government?

  23. O 2022-04-24

    I wish our political leaders would spend more of their time defining what our state/nation will be (governing) and FAR less of their time trying to re-define and sanitize what our nation.has been.

    History is not faith; it must be defined and passed down as objectively as possible based on as the accounts of those who lived it — not on the impressions of those who wish it had happened as they wanted. How we have lived up to our aspirations is as important as those aspirations themselves.

    I reject the conservative/right/MAGA/GOP thinking that this nation can be loved ONLY when it’s faults and short-comings have been ignored.

  24. A 2022-04-25

    Interesting tidbit: Member Samantha Waldner is from Hamlin County originally and ran in the 2006 Republican State House primary against Kristi Noem (her first election) and lost to her. Ms Waldner was viewed as a hardworking young person interested in education and would’ve been a better representative for sure but didn’t have snow queen experience or top cool club membership at the time.

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