The South Dakota Education Association’s first glance at the Michigan/Hillsdale standards for South Dakota’s K-12 social studies curriculum indicated the same problem the American Historical Association sees: the proposed standards focus too much on rote memorization and short-change critical thinking. “The lower-grade standards call for a level of memorization that is not cognitively appropriate for our state’s early learners,” SDEA chief Ryan Rolfs wrote the day after the state published the proposed standards, “and the upper-grade standards fail to challenge students’ critical thinking skills through standards that encourage analysis and evaluation of the world around them.”
After a month of review, the South Dakota Education Association finds many more grave problems in the Hillsdale standards:
The proposed social studies standards discourage inquiry-based learning and emphasis rote memorization. They wildly deviate from current social studies standards and will upend the curriculum for every teacher, every classroom and every school. The proposed standards are too time specific and only focus on events from 1492 to 2008 raising many questions about how teachers would approach teaching current events [SDEA, “Current Standards vs. Proposed Standards,” 2022.09.09].
SDEA says the standards take a particularly superficial approach to geography:
It should also be noted that the proposed standards lack any robust geography. Pointing to a map is the expectation in the newest proposed standards instead of understanding how human movement and culture have contributed to our history and our country [SDEA, 2022.09.09].
While some South Dakota and Native American history standards are included in the proposed standards, they are mostly afterthoughts or lumped in with other standards. There is no other opportunity for students, especially at the lower grades, to immerse themselves in the rich history and culture of our great state and the Native American tribes of South Dakota. All students should be afforded the opportunity to have at least a semester of South Dakota and Native American History, not just those who reside in a school district that can afford to offer it as an elective at the high school level [SDEA, 2022.09.09].
SDEA provides side-by-side comparisons of the standards Hillsdale proposes with the current K-12 social studies standards adopted in 2015. SDEA notes that their comparison documents do not “compare the merit of the content or provide analysis of either set of standards.” But the comparison documents show that while the 2015 standards are a thoughtfully organized sequence of standards anchored in a core set of fundamental skills for civic life, the proposed “standards” are really just a huge hodgepodge of Trivial Pursuit answers that, for all their volume, manage not to engage students in inquiry and deep learning. Consider the side-by-side for the second-grade standards. The current 2015 standards are on the left; the Hillsdale standards are on the right:
The current standards manage to cover more while saying less. The current standards provide a far more concise and useful list of skills that teachers should help students practice and develop. The Hillsdale standards lose teachers and students in a long recitation of historical details but teach fewer skills and give no outline of the purpose their trivial pursuits are serving. Don’t think, say the Hillsdale standards—just memorize and repeat.
The analysis from SDEA, which represents thousands of South Dakota teachers who were not invited to participate in drafting these social studies standards, indicates we would serve our students better by sticking with the current standards that our own teachers have produced and used successfully for years than switching to the new pile of historical trivia written by one retired (but well-paid) professor from Michigan.