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Applicant: Noem’s Standards Revision Commission Picked to Rubber Stamp Trumpy Work of Conservative Hillsdale College

Last fall, after the Department of Education’s heavy-handed whitewashing of K-12 social studies standards drafted by a 46-member volunteer workgroup, and after Governor Kristi Noem responded to out-of state right-wing critics by suspending the standards drafting process, standards workgroup member and retired Yankton High School teacher and debate coach Paul Harens expressed his sense that somebody was trying to push the recommendations of Donald Trump’s highly politicized 1776 commission onto South Dakota’s K-12 curriculum:

In May, Gov. Kristi Noem signed the “1776 Pledge to Save Our Schools,” which is based on recommendations from former president Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission report, which has been criticized by the American Historical Association as hasty, simplistic and reliant at times on “falsehoods, inaccuracies, omissions, and misleading statements.” President Joe Biden had revoked the report on his first day in office in January.

Noem reportedly said it offered “real promise.”

…The changes are consistent with the 1776 project, which, when she made the proclamation, Noem said would be optional, he said.

“It’s basically the 1776 project or comments that (Noem) has made,” Harens said. “Somebody had to tell the Department of Education to make those changes and it wasn’t somebody in the Department of Education. I don’t know who it was, but I can make a guess.”

His efforts to find out who wrote the changes have led nowhere, Harens said.

“If you read through the 1776 project, it basically whitewashes history — and I do mean white,” he said. “The 1776 project doesn’t want to talk about anything bad that’s happening — just the positives of history and the people involved. They kind of skip over slavery. They massively skip over the indigenous population in the United States” [Cora Van Olson, “Retired YHS Teacher Talks About Social Studies Standards Controversy,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2021.09.28].

It appears my friend Paul was onto something.

One of the 203 people who applied in November to serve on the redo standards workgroup received an email after applying saying the new commission would be named at the end of 2021. The Governor did not name the new, much smaller, more politically loaded standards “commission” until last week, almost four months after the intended start date. In March, the applicant did receive an invitation to interview from the Governor’s executive assistant Morgan Ness. The invitation told the applicant who would be conducting the interview:

The interview would be with Allen Cambon from the Governor’s Office, Dr. Ben Jones with the State Historical Society, and Professor William Morrisey from Hillsdale College. Lt. Governor Rhoden and Deputy Chief of Staff will possibly be on the call also [Morgan Ness, Office of Governor Kristi Noem, email to applicant for “Social Revision Commission”, March 2022].

Allen Cambon is the policy advisor Governor Noem hired from D.C. in October 2020, at the same time she hired Mark Miller from Florida to serve as her general counsel. Miller is now Noem’s chief of staff and chairman of the redo standards commission. Cambon’s focus in D.C. for Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham was agriculture. He has a B.A. in history.

Dr. Ben Jones was Noem’s first Education Secretary; named to the position temporarily in December 2018, he hung around in the office for about two years. Jones has been involved with two other conservatives in organizing a lecture series at DSU that launched last fall with a conservative speaker. He has a Ph.D. in history and has taught college but not K-12 social studies. Jones is a member of the redo standards commission.

Dr. William Morrissey is a city councilman in Hillsdale, Michigan. He taught politics at conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan from 2000 through 2015. He has a Ph.D. in political science.

The applicant who received this invitation to interview says the interviewers informed the applicant that the draft standards were already being created at Hillsdale College. The applicant learned that the standards-revision commission would meet and review the standards as a whole instead of reviewing them by grade level and/or subject. The commission would be able to give some input but would have no major authority to change the standards developed under Professor Morrisey’s direction by Hillsdale College.

Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn chaired Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission, which Trump named to counter the 1619 Project with proposals for more “patriotic” education. Hillsdale vice-president of D.C. operations Matthew Spalding executively directed the 1776 Commission. The commission churned out a widely ridiculed report in the last days of the Trump Administration, then was dissolved on the first day of President Joe Biden’s Administration.

Yet commission members met on May 24, 2021, at Hillsdale’s D.C. campus and issued a statement on Constitution Day in September 2021 saying it continues to operate “in a private capacity. and Hillsdale College’s K-12 education department developed what Hillsdale calls the 1776 Curriculum. That curriculum is available for free on the Hillsdale College website. According to Hillsdale, curriculum on the American founding, the Civil War, and civics are available; Hillsdale plans to release lessons for the rest of American history this year.

Of course, Professor Morrisey and Hillsdale College can’t satisfy the charge of the standards revision commission just by completing their 1776 curriculum and dumping their thousands of pages on us. Hillsdale’s lesson pile so far is all U.S. history and civics, while South Dakota’s K-12 social studies standards encompass geography, economics, and South Dakota history. State law requires instruction in the South Dakota Constitution, which doesn’t leap out from Hillsdale’s outline.

The 1776 Curriculum itself is not an explicit and comprehensive list of social studies standards. Complicating any plan Noem and Hillsdale may have to impose this specific curriculum on South Dakota schools is South Dakota Codified Law 13-1-12.1, which allows the state Board of Education Standards to establish school standards but does not allow the Board “to require the use of specifically designated curriculum or methods of instruction.” But Hillsdale can write its standards to align with its curriculum, and that alignment will certainly make adopting the Hillsdale lessons as the easiest path.

If the Hillsdale standards drive South Dakota schools to the Hillsdale curriculum, teachers will find themselves slogging through a value-laden pile of lessons. The 1776 Curriculum terms of use state that the curriculum is “intended to guide primary and secondary school instruction on the history of the United States of America and philosophical principles of its founding at a much deeper level and as a counter to other projects attempting to dilute and distort the significance of America’s founding and its founders.” I’d provide examples of how the lessons fulfill that intent, but the terms of use stipulate that “the Curriculum and their contents are confidential and proprietary to Hillsdale, (y) the information contained in the Curriculum is of significant value to Hillsdale, and (z) that unlawfully copying and/or disclosing the Curriculum to others will cause irreparable harm to Hillsdale.”

But it seems that curriculum won’t be confidential for long, since what an applicant heard in the standards-revision committee interview process and the participation of a Hillsdale College professor emeritus in interviewing those commission members support what my friend Paul saw coming last fall: the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum will be coming to a South Dakota public school near you in the future, courtesy of Governor Kristi Noem. Instead of following the traditional pattern of having South Dakota teachers volunteer to produce their own curriculum standards, the Noem Administration appears to have handpicked a political panel to rubber-stamp her choice of standards wrapped around a curriculum driven by conservative political ideology and developed by a conservative Michigan college to serve as the template for South Dakota students’ social studies education.


  1. Mark Anderson 2022-04-26 17:06

    Come on Cory, Noem will splain this to you. With no divisiveness of course. It’s just the the real history and present of our country will make the little ones hate our country and want to change it and we can’t have that, can we?

  2. leslie 2022-04-26 18:23

    Wow. I have heard a very influential and similar religious outfit, to what the—and-spending-millions-to-pass-them/ widely familiar ALEC conservative legislation mill has become, is aimed at naive little red states, and is called ________? Help me out pls. Thx—and-spending-millions-to-pass-them/

    Ps: you’ll be happy to know I dumped Bezos’s twitter so I won’t bore you w/ that, albeit efficient, news gathering tool any further :)

  3. mike from iowa 2022-04-26 19:00

    Hope South Duhkotuh has a strong ACLU contingent not dependent on state monies.

  4. Donald Pay 2022-04-26 20:52

    Yeah, it’s something many of us saw coming for a number of years. Noem is corrupt, and so is Hillsdale. It’s not as if Noem hasn’t been whined and dined and her palms greased with Hillsdale and Hillsdale-influenced money. Now Noem can funnel back money to Hilldsdale, which they can recycle back to her. Sing it Joni Mitchell: TThe cycle of corruption goes round and round, and Lewendowsky bounces Kristi up and down, you’re all captive on Kristi’s carousel of crime.”

  5. Arlo Blundt 2022-04-26 22:17

    Well…Who’d a thunk it. Hillsdale College certainly springs to mind when one thinks of great American institutions of higher learning. Always number 1 on the list, right???

  6. Mark Anderson 2022-04-26 22:18

    Jeez Cory, Fury a graduate of Hilldale. No wonder he’s so limited.

  7. M 2022-04-27 07:26

    Maybe Kristi will receive an honorary degree from Hillsdale for promoting them and their propaganda.

    Not many Social Science teachers will want to teach a curriculum that is written by non-teachers. Imagine doing that for math, reading, and science. Or any other job for that matter.

  8. Jordan Esmay 2022-04-27 09:22

    How many committee members are social studies teachers?

  9. John 2022-04-27 09:43

    The authoritarians are winning; democracy and truth are losing.

    Reading this post is similar to reading Putin’s version of Russian history. Maybe next Putin will liberate and de-Nazify Alaska and northern California.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-04-27 09:46

    The committee includes Rapid City West Middle School social studies teacher Shaun Nielsen, who served on the original 46-member standards workgroup.

    Dr. Jon Schaff teaches political science at Northern State University.

    Mary Shuey has taught at Dakota Valley School District, but her teaching certificate expired in 2020. She was certified to teach 5th-8th-grade science and HS biology and earth science.

    Janet Finzen teaches at Winnebago Public School in Nebraska. The school website doesn’t say what she teaches, but she has an MA in historical studies and elementary education.

    Practicing K-12 teachers are not a majority on this panel.

  11. Amy B. 2022-04-27 09:52

    I sincerely hope that these teachers take whatever bit of wiggle room they have in the classroom and find a way to teach these kids some of those things that were in the original standards. All this fire and brimstone fits about indoctrination in schools and that is exactly what the governor is trying to do. She is using children as pawns in her political ambitions and agenda and everyone should be angry about this. Now to read that the standards were basically already written out of state no less (that seems to be Noem’s favorite place to be) and they are just reviewing them is gross and I hope the public comes out in a big way to say “hell no!” to these standards.

  12. Mark Anderson 2022-04-27 17:02

    You know Cory, when the Norwegians arrived in America, they set up two debating societies, one in Minnesota with twice weekly debates about America, even including racism. Should start that up again.

  13. O 2022-04-27 17:55

    What is the process from this cabal writing new standards to those standards being taught in SD classrooms? Who els has to weigh in, approve, or pass along these recommendations? Is there any check/balance?

  14. Bill 2022-06-22 17:02

    Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee Is also promoting Hillsdale’s 1776 curriculum. No doubt it is being advocated as the curriculum in a number of states with Republican governors. Sad.

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