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ACLU Disputes Schaff Claim That Noem/Hillsdale Standards Do Right by Indians

Northern State University political science professor and well-known conservative Jon Schaff makes two remarkable claims about the work he did on the small commission Governor Noem picked to rubber-stamp her ideological K-12 social studies curriculum standards:

Professor Jon Schaff of Northern State University says they are happy with the outcome of their work.

Schaff says that they spent a lot of time getting the Native American story right.

“I think we did right by our Native American population,” Schaff told  “I would say that of all the discussions the Commission had over the course of the summer…there’s nothing we spent more time on than making sure we got that story straight” [Rich Keller, “Northern State Professor Jon Schaff on Social Studies Standards Commission,” KELO Radio, 2022.09.10].

The first remarkable claim lies in the reporter’s reference to “their work” and Schaff’s statement that “we did” the work. His fellow commission member, actual K-12 teacher Shaun Nielsen, has said the bulk of the work was done before the commission even met. Schaff, Nielsen, and their 13 fellow commission members did not write these standards; Hillsdale professor emeritus William Morrisey from Michigan did.

The second claim is Schaff’s reiteration of Governor Noem’s talking point that these standards somehow enhance education for and about our American Indian neighbors. This claim is meant to defuse the opposition that flamed up last year when Noem reduced the number of references to the Oceti Sakowin in the standards the original teacher workgroup drafted in July 2021. The South Dakota Education Association rejects this claim, saying the references to Native history and culture inserted into the Hillsdale template are “mostly afterthoughts or lumped in with other standards.” Many of the 230+ teachers who have so far submitted written testimony opposing the Hillsdale standards express a similar concern about the lack of attention Hillsdale gives to South Dakota’s rich tribal history.

The American Civil Liberties Union agrees that Hillsdale wrote worse standards for Indian social studies than our teachers did a year ago:

In 2021, more than 50 South Dakota teachers, museum experts, and professors spent eight days in Pierre drafting new standards for the state’s K-12 social studies curriculum. The working group’s draft recommendations included Native American history and culture – everything from Oceti Ŝakowiŋ stories in kindergarten to comparing and contrasting the structure of the U.S. government and sovereign tribal governments in eighth grade to studying tribal banking systems in high school.

But none of that was included in the draft of the social studies standards initially released by the Department of Education last year. Outraged by the “whitewashing” of the standards, nearly 600 people submitted public comment against these proposed changes last year.

…[T]he initial workgroup’s standards provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to feel welcome, respected and encouraged to receive education relevant to their culture, similar to what White students already receive within South Dakota’s public school system. The revised set of standards, however, still fall short of the depth of Native American topics and Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings previously recommended, despite claims otherwise by the South Dakota Department of Education [ACLU of South Dakota, “Revised Social Studies Standards Perpetuate Colonialism, Discrimination of Indigenous Students,” 2022.09.14].

The ACLU also signals that the ideological standards and the process Noem is using to ramrod them into our schools could land her in court again:

Additionally, the revised standards violate the state’s obligation to first consult with the Tribal Governments under S.D.C.L. §1-54-5 and to obtain from tribes’ free, prior and informed consent when actions are taken that affect Tribes and their children.

The state has an ongoing affirmative duty and obligation to honor the treaties entered into with the tribes of South Dakota, and should not blatantly disregard the federal laws and U.S. Constitution recognizing tribal sovereignty. This includes the right of Tribes to provide direction and input for the education of Indigenous students who attend schools in the State of South Dakota. This obligation and duty were entirely ignored by South Dakota Department of Education which results in discrimination against Indigenous students and the Tribal Nations of our state.

Instead of engaging in meaningful consultation with Tribes to obtain consent to the revisions or adopting the Tribes’ recommendations, the perspective of tribal governments is glaringly absent [ACLU, 2022.09.14].

Well, let’s hold off on any lawsuit under that first point of law. SDCL 1-54-5 says “It is the policy of the state to consult with a tribal government regarding the conduct of state government programs which have the potential of affecting tribal members on the reservation.” But it then says, “This section may not be construed to confer any substantive rights on any party in any litigation or otherwise.” So SDCL 1-54-5 seems to be more of a toothless happygram, not something any aggrieved party can use to get what it wants in court.

There may be no court case to wage against these standards, but the ACLU, the SDEA, and conscientious teachers, parents, and taxpayers don’t need a judge to tell them that the standards do not give American Indian history and culture the attention that Dr. Schaff, Governor Noem, and other culture warriors pretend they do. The Governor didn’t consult with the tribes or anyone else in South Dakota to produce these standards. The Governor doesn’t want our social studies teachers telling the tribes’ stories. She wants our social studies teachers telling the Hillsdale/Trump story of MAGA revisionism.


  1. grudznick 2022-09-18 09:08

    The whole exercise is nothing but a happygram wearing dentures.

  2. Loti 2022-09-18 15:35

    Well what can we expect when we were always told Columbus discovered America. Apparently us natives are “civilized” now and can be invited to participate with the development of Social Studies to some degree.

  3. David Newquist 2022-09-18 16:34

    When I was hired at NSU, part of the reason I was selected was because I had developed and taught courses in Native American literature. There were two of us there who taught courses in the subject at the time. Currently, I do not see it offered except at some larger universities with significant Native populations. The teaching of any literature has been diminished, and that of minorities was the first to be lopped off the curricula. The literature of minorities who were telling their own stories caused some discomfort among the social sciences.

    The very fact that universities are quibbling over “standards” is an indication of the sad state of scholarship in many universities.

  4. P. Aitch 2022-09-18 19:02

    Germans from Russia descendants are embarrassed about their treatment of and theft from American Indians. And the Germans from Russia descendants want to hide the truth. – 101
    – Teach it from kindergarten to twelfth grade and don’t forget to teach it in summer school.

  5. DaveFN 2022-09-18 19:12

    As a proponent of “no true story” since something is invariably covered up, left out, distorted, etc in any narrative, I nonetheless champion people telling themselves and teaching their youth whatever story they wish. With the caveat that the story is not to be taken literally. We are not the stories we tell ourselves.

    Noem is by contrast imposing her manifest destiny, invisible hand of God narrative as THE narrative our children are to learn, however indirectly under the guise and premise of the Hillsdale “standards.”

    She, like many neighbors of mine here in Rapid City has swallowed hook, line, and sinker the idea that the US is rapidly becoming a third-world nation and that she will rectify this. Just like her CRT gullibility she has worked to the max.

    At heart, she is tilting at specific ideas which are obviously her demons, ideas which are now part-and-parcel of the world in which we live. She is thus against freedom of expression of and the free reign of the life of the mind. Her actions might as well be a response to Nietzsche (1844-1900), antecedent ideas of (God forbid) 20th century postmodernism. M. Guy Thompson has concisely summarized Nietzsche’s position as follows:

    1. An opposition to authority characterized by an anti-foundational bias. [Noem is a foundationalist which by definition believes that all knowledge rests on a foundation which is not merely inferential, but absolute]

    2. An inherent skepticism that permeates both Nietzsche’s philosophy and postmodernism, exemplified by the rejection of absolute truths and any viewpoint that verges into metaphysics.

    3. A perspectivist orientation which holds that truth is wedded to the perspective of the person who promotes it.

    4. A moral and historical relativism based on the view that all so-called truths are relative to a time and place and, hence, neither eternal or objective but highly personal and fluid.

    5. A decentering of the subject that rejects the conventional notion of the self or ego as autonomous and in possession of its own volition.

    6. An emphasis on surface instead of depth, a position which holds that there is no depth to the personality, as such, because we are what we do, not what we take ourselves to be.

    7. An emphasis on language that permeates all the features of postmodernism listed above, deriving from skeptical doubt as to the accuracy of what language is capable of revealing about ourselves and the world we live in.

    8. An opposition to Enlightenment values epitomized by the “grand narratives” of Utopian thinkers such as Hegel and Marx, and the notion that civilization is in a constant state of “progression” toward an increasingly beneficial future. [Ironic since Noem is imposing her own grand narrative so is following in the footsteps of Marx]

    —above points quoted from M. Guy Thompson, Nietzsche and Psychoanalysis: The Fate of Authenticity in a Postmodernist World

    Welcome to the world of ideas, Kriti, whether or not you like them, ideas that have been around a long time, even prior to Nietzsche and present in cultures other than your own. The life of the mind is clearly not your cup of tea. You are an anti-intellectual who seeks to revise the very history of philosophy long out of the barn and expunge the ideas you don’t like by the imposition of your own favored narrative, one as questionable as what we saw in D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation. ”

    Noem must be fought on as many fronts as possible, including intellectually as well as pedagogically. She and her ilk mean business and so must we.

  6. DaveFN 2022-09-18 19:16

    David Newquist

    “The very fact that universities are quibbling over “standards” is an indication of the sad state of scholarship in many universities.”

    Precisely. Philosophy departments at universities around the world have been decimated over the decades, leading to a paucity of the breadth of the human intellect. Society suffers from curtailing the world of ideas while Noem and her ilk thinks that’s the cure.

  7. All Mammal 2022-09-19 12:22

    What you gentlemen and Loti have possibly surmised is: Try to separate a man from his soul. You only strengthen his and lose your own.
    -Brother Ali, Uncle Sam Goddamn

  8. Mark Anderson 2022-09-20 19:05

    Come on folks, Hillsdale college wants to whitewash history and lead us into a glorious history of stupidity.

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