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Workgroup Member: Hillsdale Wrote K-12 Social Studies Standards Before Workgroup Convened

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.


  1. Donald Pay 2022-09-12 09:47

    Cory writes: “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.”

    Exactly. One thing good about the South Dakota standards development process is that it combines the best of many sources for standards (not just one) with the expert knowledge of local teachers who have to put the standards into practice. This process works pretty well when it is not mucked up by a low IQ politician with an agenda. Conservatives complained about the Common Core, because it was “top down.” Common Core was far, far less top down. This Hillsdale clown is writing nonsense, really. It is unworkable, which is what teachers in other states who got into bed with Hillsdale are finding out. This Hillsdale farce isn’t just going on in South Dakota. It’s a plague all over the country.

  2. Richard Schriever 2022-09-12 10:17

    Republicans are no longer “conservatives”. Conservatism suggests a desire to remain on the road (not in the ditch, not cross-countrying across the prairies or on some logging trail. Republicans now-a-days are radicals.

    Noem consistently demonstrates her belief that the only SD voice one needs to heed is her own.

  3. All Mammal 2022-09-12 12:09

    Brain-eating aliens would starve in these parts.

  4. sx123 2022-09-12 12:32

    What triggered this alledged need for a rewrite? The claim that alledged CRT teaching is turning students brains to mush? I’m failing to see the need here so please enlighten me.

  5. O 2022-09-12 13:20

    sx123, although admittedly speculation, this is all politics. The first workgroup that was made up of teachers/professionals were “friendly fire” casualties in the CRT outrage tempest and their work was dismissed out-of-hand. At the same time, the inner-circle of Conservative/MAGA (see our friends in Florida) had charted this same pathway with Hillsdale, and if it’s good enough for DeSantis, it’s good enough for Noem. We got caught up in Social Studies MAGA political “Simon Says” — wanting to be on the front lines (if not the headlines) of the culture war.

    This is what happens when we turn our governance over to a Governor who is focused only on campaigning — but worse yet (for SD) not campaigning for SD Governor.

  6. All Mammal 2022-09-12 13:48

    sx123-they normally are revised or rewritten every seven years in SD. They at least get together, the educators that is, to discuss and update the curriculum. I believe I read that in a prior article. They usually don’t erase them completely and write their own from scratch. That would make previous groups’ work a waste of time. I say if you’re going to waste time, might as well do it getting wasted.

  7. P. Aitch 2022-09-12 13:58

    Sorry, Groves. Criticism of the Hillsdale Standards is not a logical fallacy because they’re associated with a group that the majority of America doesn’t agree with over this other thing. The Standards are bad because the analysis of them shows they are faulty in their insidious theory and process.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-12 14:19

    (Note: Noem flack Jones claims the criticism is a fallacy, not honest reporter Groves.)

  9. Donald Pay 2022-09-12 14:26

    Well, I think it is more about money than anything. They really don’t care about history or education. They care about now much moeny they can extract by pushing a con. By “they” I mean the righty “policy mills” and the righty politicians. HIllsdale is a money making operation for the right. They found a way to extract money from taxpayers in righty-controlled states, then turn that around to hand a good chunk to the righty politicians. It’s a money churn that depends on conning the dumb crowd, so they don’t ask too many question about where their tax dollars are going. They frighten people with stuff like CRT, then the dumb crowd is fine with handing their money over.

  10. larry kurtz 2022-09-12 14:35

    It’s not impossible that Mrs. Noem’s lumbar injury occurred during gymnastics with her conscience.

  11. Eve Fisher 2022-09-12 15:08

    All Mammal, there’s a reason we don’t have to worry about zombies in South Dakota.

  12. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-12 16:39

    This is just another example of Governor Noem’s fundamental distrust of South Dakotans, especially South Dakotans with an honest degree from our Universities and Colleges. She relies solely on out of state consultants indoctrinated in private Universities and whose limited life experience is related to political advocacy. Ben Jones has been a competent Director of the Historical Society in his brief tenure and that organization remains dedicated to honest scholarship. He should back away from being the Governor’s advocate and assume the position of honest broker in the Marketplace of Ideas.

  13. grudznick 2022-09-12 20:11

    Mr. H, there are many questions about young Mr. Groves’ honesty, and certainly his unpartisan reporting ability. He’s a hack, and possibly a liar.

  14. Donald Pay 2022-09-12 20:58

    What are those questions, Grudz? You have pretty weak gravy there, my friend. If you can’t disclose those “many questions,” you don’t even have weak gravy. You’ve got, at best, a lie wrapped in a fart in the wind. So, I call BULLSH^t, my friend. I bet you have not one “question about Mr. Groves honesty” or “his unpartisan reporting ability” that you mention here. Put up or apologize, for that stinking fart.

  15. grudznick 2022-09-12 21:20

    There are dozens, Mr. Pay. You only have to read the news. Or the twitters. And remember, or re-read, grudznick said young Mr. Groves is possibly a liar, are you saying he has never lied? And it’s a fact he’s a hack, so I leave my fart wafting for you, as it was a thick, enjoyable, coagulating gravy fart. The sort both Ms. Fairbank and I enjoy sharing.

  16. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-12 21:48

    Grudz-You’re attacking the Messenger again as you cannot refute the message. Who are you?? Richard Nixon?? Didn’t work then, won’t work now.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-13 05:41

    Nothing Groves has reported has been shown to be false. Here Groves is reporting the statements of workgroup member Shaun Nielsen, who says the workgroup didn’t really do the work. My review of the April draft and the August standards so far indicates Nielsen is telling the truth.

  18. Eve Fisher 2022-09-13 12:45

    Every time I read about Hillsdale & their approach to “history”, the historian in me wants to pick up a pitchfork and a torch and go to town.

  19. All Mammal 2022-09-13 13:25

    Ms. Fisher- I’ll get my lynchin rope and join you.

  20. 96Tears 2022-09-13 16:33

    This damn fool professor William Morrisey from Michigan is a cheap suit, floor flushin’ grifter. He’s being paid $200,000 of stolen taxes to essentially copy and paste a farce and sell it dumb state by dumb state to help evil politicians like Noem get cheap applause lines at CPAC conventions and appeal to white supremacists who are now the mainstream Republican Party in nearly every state. This is shameful, but the real damage and danger is what happens in years to come.

    If a school kid shares a copy of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” at school, or books on slavery, the extermination of Native people and cultures, stealing Native children and putting them in “get right get white” institutions, or on leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow, lynchings, the Suffragette Movement, or anything dealing with equality and fairness in American life, it will trigger troublemakers to run to their superintendents and legislators and whoever else cares to listen about CRT being exposed to our kids again.

    I guarantee you that his kind of redneck hair-trigger reaction, which could lead to violence, will become commonplace throughout our state. Kristi Noem has given them legitimacy and that genie will not go back into its bottle easily.

    This will be the living legacy of Kristi Noem. She unleashed the ugliest, meanest, most violent instincts of bad people and made it commonplace and a free for all at the drop of a hat. Kristi Noem is an ugly racist. The worst kind. And she bought her political gimmick with $200,000 of unappropriated public money.

    The only thing that surprises me is the lack of outrage from the general public who don’t identify as Trumptoids. People, you and our state’s future are being screwed.

  21. Linda M Hasselstrom 2022-10-10 15:25

    Can you publish those standards for us to read?

  22. Arlo Blundt 2022-10-10 16:20

    Linda–I would think you can just email the Department of Education and get a copy as these standards, such as they are, have been published at state expense….If you don’t want that kind of exposure, I would hope that if you contacted the History Department at Black Hills State they could run you a copy…I would also think the Historical Society could print off a copy…this document has now become an important historical reference. I imagine in the future several articles will be printed in the SDHistorical Journal about these documents and the resulting controversy…It is South Dakota History in the making.

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