I have reported that the second revision of South Dakota’s K-12 social studies standards (up for its first of four public hearings a week from today in Aberdeen) were written by Hillsdale College professor emeritus William Morrisey from Michigan and that the second workgroup hand-picked by Morrisey and Governor Kristi Noem was convened only to rubber-stamp this imported political document.
Now workgroup member Shaun Nielsen confirms my reporting.
Shaun Nielsen is one of only two people who served on the original social studies standards workgroup and Noem’s replacement rubber-stamp group. Nielsen, who teaches 7th- and 8th-grade social studies at West Middle School in Rapid City, is the only active South Dakota K-12 teacher on the second standards workgroup.
Nielsen tells AP’s Stephen Groves that the standards presented to us on August 15 as the work of the Social Studies Content Standards Commission were mostly written before that commission even met:
A few days before middle school teacher Shaun Nielsen joined a work group to develop South Dakota’s social studies standards, he got a thick package in the mail.
Sent from Hillsdale, Michigan, home to a conservative private college enjoying outsize influence among top Republicans, it contained materials that would ultimately form what the state’s public schools students could be expected to learn about American history and civics.
“Whoa — these are already written,” Nielsen remembers thinking as he opened the document this spring [Stephen Groves, “Conservative College’s Curriculum Gets Foothold in S. Dakota,” AP, 2022.09.11].
I am reviewing a copy of that April draft that was mailed to Nielsen and the rest of the workgroup before its first meeting in May. I am comparing that document to the draft standards released in August. I can tell you that the text of the August document bears very few meaningful changes from the April document. The pre-written standards workgroup members received in before they met are essentially the standards published in August.
Workgroup member Dr. Ben Jones, Noem’s first Secretary of Education and now state historian (again, not a practicing K-12 social studies teacher like Nielsen) claims that the workgroup made the published standards “very much our own,” but Jones acknowledges the standards’ Hillsdale origins when he defends the standards’ “association” with Hillsdale:
“Frankly, it’s a logical fallacy to say that something is bad because it’s associated with this group that I don’t agree with over this other thing,” he said of criticism of Hillsdale [Groves, 2022.09.11].
But even if we set aside all arguments about Hillsdale’s ideological agenda, we can still identify the fatal pedagogical flaw in the Hillsdale standards in the process that produced them. South Dakota curriculum standards are normally written by South Dakota educators, practicing teachers from across the state who apply their lengthy experience with South Dakota children in South Dakota classrooms day after day to improve upon standards that have arisen through years of collaborative professional practice. That’s the process that produced the 2021 draft K-12 social studies standards, which themselves attentively revised the current standards produced by the same process in 2015. Governor Noem abandoned that process. Governor Noem abandoned the work not just of the 46 educators on the 2021 team but of generations of South Dakota teachers who have collaborated to build a thoughtful and responsive social studies curriculum. Governor Noem replaced that collaborative, homegrown process with an iconoclastic rewrite conducted, evidently, by one man from one college who has never taught in a South Dakota classroom. That consultant did not ask Nielsen or any other South Dakota teacher to help him revise the standards. That consultant did not ask any South Dakota teacher to discuss the existing standards and help identify what should be kept and what should be changed. That consultant simply threw out South Dakota’s work, wrote his own iconoclastic vision of what social studies education should look like, and then presented that vision fully written to the workgroup for its endorsement.
These standards were not written by South Dakotans. They were not written in genuine collaboration with practicing South Dakota educators. These standards are a top-down proposal, a dictate from the Governor (who also has never taught in a South Dakota school) to the schools to dispose of all past standards and practice and do what William Morrisey says to do.
I don’t care what ideology Dr. Morrisey professes. He could be Nikole Hannah-Jones trying to write the 1619 Project into our curriculum instead of Hillsdale‘s 1776 Curriculum. Having one out-of-state egghead write South Dakota’s K-12 curriculum standards without genuine input from and collaboration with South Dakota educators violates all sorts of principles of good pedagogy, good management, and—dare I say?—good conservative principles of local control of education.