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 theory, wokeness, political correctness, multiculturalism, 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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”.
- 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”:
- LPS-II 4.4 Analyze differences in power and privilege related to people of culturally diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and practices.
- LPS-II 4.5 Analyze issues of cultural assimilation and cultural preservation among ethnic and racial groups in South Dakota and the United States.
- 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.
- 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:
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.”
- 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”.