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DOE Hunt for “Divisive Concepts” Doesn’t Find Much; SD to Ban “Equity” from Standards and Contracts?

Last April, Governor Kristi Noem ordered her Department of Education to identify and eradicate from its materials all “divisive concepts“—the new sloppy code for critical race theorywokenesspolitical correctnessmulticulturalism, or whatever other derogatory label Noem and her Breitbart audience want to apply to ideas not favored by apartheidist Republicans. The Department duly complied and produced a report on the divisive concepts it found on June 28. When the Governor’s Office refused to release that report, it seemed the only logical explanation was that the Department’s search probably didn’t produce much evidence to support Noem’s implication that South Dakota education was rife with leftist indoctrination.

But reporter Bob Mercer’s pressure, as well as, I suspect, of the failure of Noem’s lawyers to find any defensible legal pretense under which to withhold this report, has pushed the Governor’s Office to finally release the “divisive concepts” report. As suspected, the DOE didn’t find much to support Noem’s fuss.

  1. The June 28 report says that the Department found no problematic materials in K-12 school accreditation, data and research, finance and management, or graduation requirements.
  2. Evidently alarmed by the word equity, the DOE will change the name of the “School and Educator Equity Report” in the statewide schools report card to “Rates of Access to Qualified Teachers”.
  3. The DOE also found that alarming word equity in SDCL 13-3-51 pertaining to educational data collection and ARSD 24:43:08:02 and 24:43:08:06 pertaining to waiving school districts from certain rules and DOE policies. “[P]romoting equity may be construed as divisive,” so the Department will propose changes to rid that law and those rules of that word, which “may be construed as divisive”.
  4. A course the state approved for career and technical education, Introduction to Law & Public Safety 2, includes two higher-level thinking standards that may lead students to think forbidden thoughts and thus will be “addressed”:
    1. LPS-II 4.4 Analyze differences in power and privilege related to people of culturally diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and practices.
    2. LPS-II 4.5 Analyze issues of cultural assimilation and cultural preservation among ethnic and racial groups in South Dakota and the United States.
  5. Documents supporting the current social studies standards adopted in 2015 mention that students who “circulate a petition, organize a rally, champion a boycott” would be engaging in activities that relate to the 2015 standards. Governor Noem maintains, against research and responsible educational practice, that applying their learning to real-world civic activities is bad for children, so those documents are divisive and have to go.
  6. SDCL 13-1-48 requires teachers to take a 3-credit course in South Dakota Indian studies covering “language and cultural awareness, history, educational theory and background of traditional tribal education, and implementation and strategies of Indian learning styles, curriculum development, and authentic assessment.” The Department of Education published four course strands that approved Indian studies courses should include:
    South Dakota Department of Education, Certification Requirements: SD Indian Studies Course Strands, cached by Google 2022.08.14.
    South Dakota Department of Education, Certification Requirements: SD Indian Studies Course Strands, cached by Google 2022.08.14.

    The Department determined that Strand 1’s statement that students should “Establish a fundamental awareness of cultural dynamics such as race and gender bias, stereotyping, assumptions, etc.” violates Governor Noem’s order that we not talk about “divisive concepts”. Sometime between Sunday night and my check today, the DOE scrubbed all of those strands from its website. The DOE proposes to revise that troublesome first strand to read, simply, “Establish a fundamental awareness of cultural dynamics.”

  7. The DOE can’t rewrite the Oceti Sakowin standards on teaching about the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people—those standards and related materials are the purview of the Board of Education Standards and the Department of Tribal Relations. But the DOE says some of the Oceti Sakowin approaches to instruction, like an activity to “simulate assimilation experiences, including conversion of groups to individualism,” “may not align” with the Governor’s “divisive concepts” ban. Hmm… helping students understand the oppression committed against American Indians is divisive?

The DOE does not list any other specific materials with “divisive concepts” that it has rooted out. However, it does express concern that materials from other agencies, non-profits, and outside vendors may not align with the Governor’s order. The Department says it will “insert a clause in contracts with outside vendors” to prevent their discussion of “divisive concepts” on the state’s dime. The Department will “develop guidance for staff members and contractors to use in selecting training topics and presenters, building professional development, and vetting any resources.” Contracts are legal agreements, so vendors and their lawyers will surely demand some specificity on what words or actions can serve as grounds losing a state contract. If the DOE’s actions on the few problematic materials they identified above are any indication, the Department will likely start handing all vendors a list of forbidden words, like equity, racism, gender bias, privilege, culturally responsive, tolerance, justice, inclusion, inequality….

The Department didn’t find much to raise the Governor’s hackles in their quest for “divisive concepts” in DOE materials. I have to wonder if the actions they are proposing will only create more division.

Related Reading: Governor Noem touts the report, whose release she delayed for six weeks, as evidence that “We are proactively removing Critical Race Theory before it has any opportunity to take hold in our schools.”

Proactively removing—how do we remove something that isn’t here? That’s like saying, “I think you might buy baloney later, so I’m going to remove that baloney from the fridge right now.”

Evidently we need to remind the Governor and everyone reading her misleading tweets that neither the June 28 report that she hid for six weeks nor the definition of “divisive concepts” that told the DOE to seek and destroy in her April 5 order mentioned “critical race theory”.


  1. All Mammal 2022-08-16 10:39

    I developed an entire lesson plan for my South Dakota Indian Studies for k-12 teachers course. After presenting a short skit I planned to use to introduce the course to my students, my professor and cohorts all wanted copies of my binder to use to teach their future students. In later teaching courses, I realized the traditional model should be incorporated into everything we do with our students. Every lesson can and should utilize the importance of wisdom, generosity, bravery, and gratitude. I gave my lesson book I created to the professor to freely share with future teachers required to take his course. I hope it is going strong in South Dakota and beyond. Personally, I prefer teaching in the style of my Native educators. It is insightful and student and teacher lines blur, making it a more equal and liberating environment. Plus it is almost always outside, under the watchful birds and four sacred directions. I doubt if Noem’s goons were staring right at it they would know what radical, illegal, dangerous material they were looking at. Ha! Why wouldn’t learning to be a leader like Sitting Bull by figuring out how to split up a pizza given to him with all of his hungry people equally not teach required math standards for fractions? At the same time practice generosity and leadership. We would even have another group making the pizzas for a whole separate learning standard that aligns with the Lakota fundamentals. Another aspect imbedded into our entire day was music, which can be used creatively to teach all subjects. Don’t mold kids. Unfold. The potential is already there. Noem has no clue and should take the South Dakota Indian Studies for k-12 teachers course, for starters. Her draconian orders are so miserable. She has to lose the election or our kids are going to suffer a life of unrealized potential and there is nothing sadder.

  2. larry kurtz 2022-08-16 10:40

    It might be fun to listen to a middle school teacher describe the Custer Courthouse incident as an historic precedent for the attempted violent overthrow of the US culminating in the legitimacy of assassinating Mike Pence.

  3. larry kurtz 2022-08-16 10:50

    In 1973 the above-mentioned courthouse was the scene of a confrontation between Native American activists that not only led to the occupation of Wounded Knee on the Oglala Lakota Nation it led to the creation of a white nationalist militia in the county actually named for a war criminal.

  4. Donald Pay 2022-08-16 11:09

    This was kind of a masturbatory process, wasn’t it? So, they are going to get rid of “equity report” and substitute “rates of access to qualified teachers.” Pardon her while Noem jerks off, but from my point of view it’s the same damn thing. Will Noem hold a report burning event to get rid of all those horrible, horrible reports of the past few years that had the digusting word “equity” in it? I mean, really, how many tax dollars went into this nonsense? And how many more tax dollars are going to be wasted on it?

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-16 11:54

    All Mammal and Donald are on the same track, I think! Donald recognizes the absurdity of changing a word and thinking that we are changing a concept or removing any underlying “divisiveness”, real or perceived. All Mammal talks about presenting a perfectly enjoyable and instructive lesson that participants and observers alike would be unlikely to feel is “divisive” even though it is rooted in the sort of cross-cultural understanding that Noem pretends is “divisive”.

    I can imagine the DOE complied with Noem’s seek-and-destroy order by doing a text search on its files based on certain key words. Now they’ll likely impose those same keywords on future contracts and documents. We’re not really changing anything; we’re just making sure we don’t say words the boss doesn’t like to make her think she’s actually achieved something.

  6. John 2022-08-16 12:01

    Another glorious example of a South Dakota executive or legislative bug looking for a windshield.
    All the while when the state has real issues to resolve. But let’s invent and chase fictional problems.

  7. Ryan 2022-08-16 13:40

    What an idiot this lady is. Here’s hoping jamie smith can come in and shake the brain fog loose up there in pierre. somebody’s got to do it.

  8. Donald Pay 2022-08-16 14:20

    Let’s look at a couple divisive concepts, the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Both were extremely divisive in their time, and the Constitution remains so down to the recent decision on abortion. Do we not teach about the US Constitution because there have been a lot of divisiveness that has developed about it and how it should be interpreted? America is all about divisiveness. Divisiveness is as American as apple pie. To not teach about the divisiveness is to not teach Americanism.

  9. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-16 14:25

    Well…it is all the fault of those pesky Native Americans who illegally migrated into South Dakota before the Norwegians and Germans claimed their birthright to plow the prairie from horizon to horizon and achieve dominion over the land. Our forefathers did their best to starve them to death, push them into the far corners of the state, and ignore their existence. The Native Americans, because of their limited intellectual properties, refused to farm or to fit into the workforce of rural South Dakota, and, of their own free will, became ne’er do wells totally dependent on the hand outs from an evil and profligate federal government. They burned the furniture given to them by good Christian people for firewood. They sold their children for whiskey.

    According to our Governor, these well known facts in South Dakota are not divisive and may be taught in our schools.

  10. P. Aitch 2022-08-16 14:51

    “Don’t mold kids. Unfold. The potential is already there.”- wisdom of All Mammal

    Equity synonyms are fairness, honesty, integrity and justice
    Access synonyms are entrance, entry, way in, ingress and approach

  11. larry kurtz 2022-08-16 16:28

    Will South Dakota schools teach Sally Hemings as an enslaved person?

  12. larry kurtz 2022-08-16 16:30

    The number of divisive concepts in US history are innumerable.

  13. larry kurtz 2022-08-16 16:42

    NPR didn’t recite the Declaration this year because of its insensitive language and Noem blamed SDPB for being divisive!

  14. Ryan 2022-08-16 17:57

    sshhhh, larry.. you’re gonna scare a republican with those words.

  15. larry kurtz 2022-08-16 18:17

    *number is innumerable* those nuns failed me, apparently….

  16. DaveFN 2022-08-16 22:28

    Divisive? Can you say Galileo? Copernicus? Newton? Darwin?

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-08-17 05:21

    As Donald and Larry note, America—even the good and perfect America Noem wants us to believe we are—was founded on divisive concepts, in bloody division. If we can’t talk about divisive concepts, we can’t talk about America.

  18. Caleb 2022-08-17 11:02

    Look, if you silly leftists wouldn’t have politicized everything, the GOP wouldn’t have to treat words like “equity” and “privilege” as political concepts in this 21st century. Thank yourselves for the wasted tax dollars and executive public flex. /sarcasm

  19. All Mammal 2022-08-17 11:56

    Kristi Noemer pile’s TV ad where right before she speeds off on a horse, she tells South Dakotans, “We’re just getting started, South Dakota!”
    Makes me want to pull a Bonnie B and shove a pointy instrument into my eyeball. What in tarnation have you been doing for the past several YEARS?! Just getting started? Might not want to point out the fact you’ve just been playing dress up this whole time and maybe tossed some food for fodder every now and again for your pissed off people. So help me, woman. Good leaders like it when their people are happy, not arming themselves for when the lefties take hold and beefing with little kids and teachers. Just getting started? You’ve had plenty of time to accomplish everything you promised. Bet she doesn’t dress her own pony. Her arms don’t look like they could lift a saddle, let alone lead South Dakota in a quilting bee. Get off the sunka wakan before you get throwed.

  20. Arlo Blundt 2022-08-17 14:37

    Ain’t a horse that ain’t been rode, ain’t a governor that ain’t been throw’d.

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