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SDEA: Hillsdale Standards Upend Curriculum, Lack Geography, Short-Change Indigenous History and Culture

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].

SDEA pops Noem’s pretense that the Hillsdale standards somehow improve the teaching of Indigenous history and culture:

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.


  1. Jad 2022-09-16 07:56

    Interested citizens need to attend every hearing. The room needs to be packed with citizens who oppose the standards. Make them move the meeting to an auditorium to accommodate the crowd. Show the Standards Board that the proposed standards are garbage.

  2. Anne Beal 2022-09-16 09:25

    my twin grandsons in Massachusetts studied the fall of the Roman empire in the 4th grade.

    Memorizing historical trends and events are good since humans make the same mistakes over and over. So if you memorize past events you will get deja vu when observing current events. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it and all that. If you learned nothing else in your history classes, you should have learned that.
    Sounds like the teachers who are complaining don’t know much themselves.

  3. Bonnie B Fairbank 2022-09-16 09:53

    Two things I remember vividly about Social Studies from the 1960s and 70s:

    Mrs. Furry (yep, her real name) spending a whole semester on “The Wawh of Nawthin Aggereshun.” Guess which side of the Mason/Dixon she hailed from.

    My parents telling me just about everything I learned was bull patties, but don’t challenge the teachers. They urged me to use my own head; think critically, and for Gawd’s sake don’t believe for a minute the Founding Frauds really MEANT any of that part about all Men being created equally. Except maybe Adams.

  4. sx123 2022-09-16 10:11

    I am all for improvements, but the proposed curriculum does look a bit like Trivial Pursuit. Why is this focused on 1492 to 2008? Cuz Columbus? Native Americans where here before 1492. Vikings where here before 1492. Lots of things happened over here and throughout the world before 1492. I especially don’t like the lack of coordinated geography study (going off of what SDEA is saying on their website) since human movement helps reveal how languages, religions, and traditions evolve (one can almost watch them change as humans migrate). Finding things on a map is important but doesn’t really reveal human movement and probably is biased towards how things look today and in recent history. But, I’m not a teacher, not a history expert, and my opinion doesn’t mean much, and I’m sure it’ll continue to morph as more info comes out.

  5. CK 2022-09-16 11:06

    I wonder when Anne Beal’s grandchildren were in the fourth grade. I looked up Massachusetts content standards, and that’s not what fourth graders should be studying.

    However, Massachusetts content standards are pretty good. South Dakota would do well to emulate them.

  6. CK 2022-09-16 11:54

    And if you’re curious, here’s what the August 5th, 2021 proposed content standards were:

    Grade 2: Making a Difference in My State and Country
    In 2nd grade, students learn about their role in their state and country. They engage in thinking and conversing about their own responsibility to take care of their community and state, focusing on being an informed citizen. They also learn about how the government plays a role in their community, state, and country. Students begin to learn about monetary decisions and how laws are made.
    Additional resources will be released during the unpacking process as a guide for lesson planning during the implementation of these standards.

    Grade 2 History

    Anchor Standard
    K-12.H.1: Students will analyze change, continuity, and context throughout history.
    K-12.H.2: Students will evaluate the impact of people, events, ideas, and symbols upon history, through multiple sources.
    K-12.H.5: Students will develop historical research skills by analyzing and evaluating primary and secondary sources.
    K-12.H.6: Students will incorporate multiple points of view to identify and analyze historical events of South Dakota.

    Grade Level Standards
    • 2.H.1.1: Given a set of historic events, demonstrate chronological order.
    • 2.H.1.2: Use historical records and artifacts to compare past life to present-day life in the community and state.
    • 2.H.2.1: Compare how holidays and ceremonies are celebrated in different cultures.
    • 2.H.5.1: Understand that primary and secondary sources can be based on fact or opinion.

    Grade 2 Civics
    Anchor Standard
    K-12.C.1: Students will compare and evaluate the purposes and structures of various common forms of government.
    K-12.C.2: Students will explain and evaluate the principles and structures inherent in the creation and legacy of the American constitutional system.
    K-12.C.3: Students will analyze the principles, historical impact, and contemporary relevance of foundational documents.

    Grade Level Standards
    • 2.C.1.1: Explain the meaning behind state and national symbols.
    • 2.C.2.1: Explain the basic political roles of leaders in the community, state, and country.
    • 2.C.2.2: Identify laws in the community and state and understand how they are made.
    • 2.C.3.1: Discuss the structure of local, state and federal government.
    • 2.C.3.2: Understand and identify how governments are funded.

    Grade 2 Geography
    Anchor Standard
    K-12.G.1: Students will use geospatial tools and resources to generate, interpret, and analyze information.
    K-12.G.2: Students will understand and apply the nature and importance of the 6 Essential Elements of Geography (The World in Spatial Terms, Places and Regions, Physical Systems, Human Systems, Environment and Society, and The Uses of Geography).
    K-12.G.3: Students will explain the events and processes that shape places and regions.
    K-12.G.5: Students will understand the ways in which humans culturally adapt to, use, modify, and impact the natural environment.
    K-12.G.6: Students will analyze the key elements of South Dakota geography and its impact on historical and contemporary issues.

    Grade Level Standards
    • 2.G.1.1: Construct and explain maps that include cardinal directions and landforms.
    • 2.G.1.2: Explain how communities are part of a larger region.
    • 2.G.1.3: Identify regions of the United States on a map.
    • 2.G.2.1: Explain how people influence the movement of goods within the community and state.
    • 2.G.3.1: Compare and contrast the physical and man-made characteristics of the community with those of another community.
    • 2.G.5.1: Describe ways in which people modify and adapt to the environment.
    • 2.G.6.1: Identify the regions of South Dakota.

    Grade 2 Economics
    Anchor Standard
    K-12.E.1: Students will apply the fundamental vocabulary, ideas, and concepts associated with the study of economics.
    Grade Level Standards
    • 2.E.1.1: Compare and contrast the goods and services that people in the community produce with those that are produced in other communities.
    • 2.E.1.2: Understand how people use their money and that their choices have consequences.

    Draft last updated August 5, 2021

  7. Donald Pay 2022-09-16 12:08

    “Trivial Pursuit” is a correct interpretation. These are not standards. They aren’t anywhere near realistic younger aged students. The second grade standards are just laughably out of reality. He’s such a pointy headed academic that he probably has no idea what happens in a classroom. Yeah, some of what they have is likely to be covered in any standard academic text, but second graders barely can read or write, so the assumption has to be that the teacher is up there vomiting all this information, the students aren’t able to take notes, etc., etc. Nothing gets learned. It ain’t happening. This is a big con, a taxpayer money grab by so-called Christian people. They ought to be praying hard for forgiveness, because these “standards” are unforgivable. Repent, Hillsdale and Noem.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-16 13:46

    Anne, I have no problem with memorizing basic facts. I do have a problem with focusing on nothing else. Memorizing basic facts should support deeper objectives, not serve as an end in itself.

    And don’t try turning this into another right-wing propaganda attack on teachers. They know more than you about social studies and about teaching social studies effectively to our kids.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-16 13:48

    As CK notes, those second-grade standards proposed by actual South Dakota educators in 2021, building on the work previous South Dakota teachers had done and on their own long experience teaching, sound plenty rigorous.

  10. All Mammal 2022-09-16 14:00

    There’s a major element missing in the standards that are pretty essential in understanding basic Social Studies. Resources. People have to have a bare minimum of natural resources to initially and permanently inhabit an environment.

    Furthermore, resources are the heart of trade and wealth. Analyzing a region’s resources is necessary to understand the shape and flow of human populations, as well as the impacts those resources will have on the environment. These studies compound the importance of following the money to determine cause and effect. The sooner little humanoids grasp these concepts, the less likely they will be to repeat the cycle of abuse endured by indigenous populations and by land, water, and air in resource-rich areas.

  11. Donald Pay 2022-09-16 15:47

    All Mammal is correct. That was one of the things I remember learning at Mark Twain Elementary. We learned about material culture, and it wasn’t by memorizing a bunch of stuff. I remember in third grade our class we (really the janitor) made a tipi in the middle of the classroom. Our tipi was made from wood and big rolls of newsprint. We all got our chance to sit in the tipi and tell stories. It wasn’t exactly like the Lakota would do, but for a bunch of city white kids, it was pretty darn memorable. We learned about how the skins of bison would be used for the tipi, and we had a skin in the classroom we could feel. And we learned a little bit about wild plant foods.

    In fifth grade we learned about crops and nutrition and cooking. We made vegetable soup in class learning about each plant and what sorts of nutrients it had. You know, I don’t remember squat about the crap we memorized, but I hold those memories of the things we did very close to my heart even today.

  12. Donald Pay 2022-09-16 16:00

    Mrs. Musil was my daughters 2nd grade teacher at EB Bergquist in Rapid. She had the kids make their own book. They had to do the illustrations and the story. It had to be a multiple page story. My daughter’s started out, “I’m not one of them that likes islands.” Right up there with Jane Austen for first lines, don’t ya think? I asked her about that a couple years ago, and she said it was because she hated the silent “s.” That’s how kids think, and that’s missing in all that verbiage in those proposed standards.. Anyway, once Mrs. Musil’s students got it all down on paper, they would use yarn to stitch the pages together into a book. I still have that book.

  13. All Mammal 2022-09-16 16:11

    Mr Pay- almost all the content in my soul is memories like you described. I suspect much of it comes from the time and love and trust it takes to pass on information to others. Especially the good stuff that ensures the continuance of survival and the outcome is love for the culture and each other, perhaps.

    We had a tipi too and spaces like that are magical to children. You were able to connect the lack of trees on the prairie and the migration of the bison to the reason there weren’t wooden cabins and permanent structures, without someone standing over you and telling you. Therefore, you UNDERSTOOD the history of SD much more deeply on a level of intellect not reachable with droll instruction.

    Lessons like you were taught fulfill multiple subjects like science and home-ec, etc. There is so much substance lost when teachers are deprived of the multiple tools in their chest and forced to focus on rigid bullet points. I hope our oppositions submitted win the correct decision to reject the Hillsdale rigamarole.

  14. Richard Schriever 2022-09-16 19:46

    The Hills’d’aliens and Noemists goal here is to train people WHAT to think, not how to think.

  15. DaveFN 2022-09-16 20:17

    Richard Schriever

    Understood, although how to think the Hillsdale way is no less pernicious. :-)

  16. cathy 2022-09-16 22:32

    The things I remember the most from social studies classes: Learning about Henry Ford and how the assembly line changed the world (we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches one at a time, then we did an assembly line). We learned about labor unions and collective bargining after our teachers went on strike. We studied current events–moon shots, anti-war demonstrations, Civil Rights, the Energy Crisis, terrorists, plane hijackings, the cold war…We went to museums and factories and Busch Stadium and The Arch and Cahokia Mounds (we spent a lot of time studying the mound builders). Coal mining and logging and tourism and caves and earthquakes… We even had a semester-long social studies class called the American Indian (from prehistoric times to present day). Some teachers were good at weaving past and present together. Some teachers just made us memorize boring stuff (blech).

  17. Jim 2022-09-16 22:48

    Trump loves the poorly educated.

  18. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-16 22:49

    My 8 year old, 9 year old tomorrow, grandson in Michigan came home from school today and told his mother that his teacher had a special class on the Constitution today as tomorrow was Constitution Day. He was worried that people would be so busy celebrating Constitution Day that they would forget his birthday party. His mother told him she doubted that would happen.

    He then said, “Mom, do you know that until “article 19″, women couldn’t vote or try to be President. What’s up with that?” His Mother laughed when she told me and said “I knew I was going to love that teacher.”

  19. RST Tribal Member 2022-09-16 22:54

    The educational standards used in South Dakota schools for the past generation or two created the likes of Noemie and a whole bunch of racist shortsighted inept inbred people, mostly republicans. It was only in recent history the narrowness of thoughts and minds began to broaden as educators went from all white to a combination of many colors.

    It is not only the dumb governor but a whole cast of characters in her and around her that pumped bad ideas into her mind. As suggested, going to public meetings to show concern might get attention. The big impact will be to go to the voting booth in November to send the direct message taught in many social studies classes. Voting makes change. The numbers tell the likes of Nomie, RINO Thune and jumping jack Dusty what the people of South Dakota think, believe and want.

    More of the same for South Dakota governance? Might! Maybe not! We’ll see. It took years of dumbing down today’s voters using the elementary and secondary education systems that hears a bold face lie yet blindly keeps the party in power who have done little to nothing for a majority of the people. Look around the state to see the wealth people lining their pockets while many people are just getting by. The mom and pop stores are going by the way of the big box mega stores causing people to drive miles, stay in expensive hotels and eat at restaurants that break the budget to shop.

    Standards are important. But critical is the teacher in the classroom that makes the difference. South Dakota’s inept inbred Republicans in power want to constrain the pool of teachers with limited pay, goofy standards and unfriendly governance.

    We’ll see what November brings besides winter.

  20. Loti 2022-09-16 23:49

    Attending grade school in mission in the late 50s was challenging, it was a long walk. All i recall was i had a teacher from Norway and another who spanked me in front of the class. I hated spinach and they forced me to eat it anyway until i threw up. In the first grade and there after, i told my classmates i would become a nurse. I often wonder how i survived and retired from my nursing career.

  21. Donald Pay 2022-09-17 09:42

    Well, Anne Beal mentions the “fall” of the Roman Empire. On what date did it “fall?” That’s not at all clear to most historians. Did it really “fall,” or did it just evolve out of “empire” and into something else? Was it good or bad that the Roman Empire “fell?” These are questions you can’t answer by rote memorization. The very date of the “fall” of the Roman Empire is completely arbitrary. So, you memorize that date, and what have you learned? Nothing.

  22. larry kurtz 2022-09-18 06:32

    In the 1886 Kagama decision, the United States Supreme Court asserted that a tribe’s “worst enemy” is the state in which they reside. Because of plenary power, Congress can abrogate or eliminate any treaty with any tribe for any reason, but in states that have sovereignty as determined by the 1953 PL 280, like North Dakota, tribal sovereignty protects the tribe from their worst enemy, the state.

  23. Richard Schriever 2022-09-18 09:38

    Donald, it is my view that the Ronan Empire did indeed evolve into “something else” – well, sort of. The Roman Catholic Church. A global empire and the one to which kings and queens of many countries looked for approval, permission and a mission.

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