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American Historical Association: Hillsdale Standards Harm Students’ Learning, College Prospects, and Job Opportunities

America’s historians say the Michigan/Hillsdale standards Governor Kristi Noem is pushing on South Dakota would “be a disservice both to students and to the state itself.”

In a letter sent to the South Dakota Board of Education Standards yesterday and cc’ed to Governor Noem, the American Historical Association, which consists of over 11,500 professional historians, says the standards Dr. William Morrisey wrote for South Dakota’s K-12 social studies curriculum “fail to meet the AHA’s criteria in many ways”:

They are excessively long and detailed in their prescriptions, yet totally inadequate in their vision of what history learning entails. By design, the proposed standards omit any and all forms of historical inquiry in favor of rote memorization. There are no references to the practice of historical interpretation, understanding historical context, or critical thinking. The AHA’s criteria emphasize that good history education helps students learn to explore issues from various angles; the proposed standards fall far short of incorporating multiple historical perspectives [James Grossman, executive director, American Historical Association, letter to South Dakota Board of Education Standards, 2022.09.15].

The AHA says these flaws stem from the Governor’s rejection of standards developed by the normal process of review by active social studies teachers:

According to the AHA’s criteria, standards should “include input from practicing historians, social studies methods professors, and history teachers, who can help attune standards to current research findings and best teaching practices in the field.” In 2021, the South Dakota Department of Education appropriately convened a group composed of a wide range of historians and educators to revise the social studies standards. But Governor Noem cast aside the work of this group before any public hearings were held. The lack of input by experienced educators is evident in the proposed 2022 standards [Grossman/AHA, 2022.09.15].

The AHA warns that the Hillsdale standards will harm kids educationally:

This bears emphasis: The standards you are considering would do significant harm to students in your state. The substantial gaps in the knowledge, critical thinking skills, and habits of mind taught to South Dakota high school students would limit their preparedness for college as well as their access to early college credit. If adopted, these standards would result in ignorance of fundamental understandings about American history, as well as undermine students’ ability to perform effectively on the US History Advanced Placement test or successfully complete college-level dual enrollment courses in US history [Grossman/AHA, 2022.09.15].

…and professionally:

These proposed standards will also harm students’ employment prospects. As the AHA has documented through our extensive work on career preparedness in history classrooms, the aspect of history education employers value most is students’ ability to communicate with and understand people from different backgrounds. The narrow history education elaborated in this draft would limit students’ exposure to complex and contested voices from the past, making them less competitive job candidates and imperiling their future career prospects [Grossman/AHA, 2022.09.15].

To avoid harming kids’ school and job prospects, the AHA makes the same recommendation I do: scrap the fatally flawed Hillsdale standards and return to the good work produced by the South Dakota educators’ workgroup in 2021:

The AHA urges you to revisit the 2021 proposed standards, which were part of a process that engaged historians and experienced educators more meaningfully. The 2022 process has been tainted by serious procedural problems and cannot be redeemed to meet the standards of our discipline [Grossman/AHA, 2022.09.15].

The AHA letter notes that the association “promotes the critical role of historical thinking in public life. Everything has a history” The Hillsdale standards ignore the history of social studies curriculum standards as they have been developed over decades by conscientious South Dakota teachers and replaces them with a radical and inferior document that turns kids away from historical thinking and turns them into memorization machines. That turn would weaken students’ ability to participate intelligently and effectively in public life.

11,500 historians say boot the Hillsdale standards; restore and respect real South Dakota social studies curriculum standards.


  1. All Mammal 2022-09-17 11:34

    Our kids need all the head starts and boosts they can get from us. The bogus teacher pay, racism, disparity between uptown schools and schools on the rough side of the tracks and unhealthy amounts of magat garbage everywhere on top of the severe lack of inclusive spaces they can congregate unmolested by the fuzz and nosy fogies, are enough obstacles they already face. They do not need us yanking any love woven into their curriculum to be replaced with no-minded, obtuse suck-and-spew knowledge.

    We will wither rapidly the moment we let some conman waltz into our state and douse the potential of our most valuable resource.

  2. larry kurtz 2022-09-19 17:33

    Be aware, South Dakota that sine New Mexico embraced charter schools we have fallen to 51st for student outcomes.

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