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 KELO.com. “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.