At Monday’s public hearing on the proposed K-12 social studies standards written by right-ring Hillsdale College, the Board of Education Standards allowed 90 minutes of public testimony from proponents and 90 minutes from opponents. Individual speeches were strictly limited to four minutes; folks who tried running over were cut off by a beeper and a verbal interruption from BOES chair Dr. Becky Guffin.
But the Board ran no timer on the introductory speeches in favor of the standards given by Department of Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson, DOE subdirector Shannon Malone, and state historian and propagandist Dr. Ben Jones. Nor did the state limit the time granted for rebuttal to Northern State University conservative professor (and candidate for Hillsdale presidency?) Dr. Jon Schaff.
In addition to those unlimited speeches from Noem appointees (Jones and Schaff were both appointed by Noem to the second social studies workgroup whose only work consisted of rubber-stamping the standards Hillsdale wrote), the Noem Administration loaded a lot of the public proponent testimony time with its political minions. Two more of Noem’s standards commission members—Hillsdale alumnus Dylan Kessler and Noem’s Indian education director Fred Osborn—took public proponent testimony slots. So did Noem’s chief of policy Rachel Oglesby, Noem’s Secretary of Tribal Relations Dave Flute, and Republican legislators Sue Peterson, Al Novstrup, and Carl Perry. Oglesby, Kessler, Flute, and Perry even crowded their way to the top of the proponent speakers’ list.
Proponent testimony also included right-wing lobbyists Florence Thompson, Tonchi Weaver, Lisa Gennaro, and Linda Schauer, plus a pitch from Hillsdale graduate and right-wing national (i.e., not a South Dakotan) columnist Joy Pullmann.
That’s 12 proponents taking up public testimony time who are either directly employed by Noem, lunching at the one-party regime trough, or serving as ringers for their alma mater to turn our schools into Hillsdale marketing centers. Those vested interested actually outnumber the 11 other members of the actual public with no overt ties to the Noem/GOP/Hillsdale machine who spoke in favor of Noem’s Hillsdale standards.
Even with those Noem/Hillsdale lapdogs doubling the number of proponent testifiers, the proponents barely had enough people to fill their 90 minutes. The board got to the end of its list of registered proponents and had to ask multiple times for any other proponent testimony before one Terry Rohl (sp?) of Aberdeen took the mic, claimed she had been “on the fence” about the standards before the hearing but was now “really excited” about them given what she’d heard from Mr. Novstrup and other proponents. (I suspect a real fence-sitter would have waited to hear opponent testimony before climbing down to one side or the other.)
Meanwhile, 27 members of the public testified against the Hillsdale standards during the 90 minutes allotted. The Board shut out eight other opponents in the room and all eight opponents waiting on Zoom, telling them they could register to speak at the November 21 hearing in Sioux Falls.
Of the 27 opponents who got to speak, 24 are current or retired South Dakota teachers or administrators. One, Tea elementary principal, Dr. Samantha Walder, is a Republican appointed by Noem to serve on the second standards commission with Jones, Schaff, Osborn, and Kessler, but she broke with her Republican colleagues to expose the standards commission as a sham political exercise with no regard for the expertise of South Dakota educators.
Monday’s public hearing time was tilted heavily in favor Noem and Hillsdale supporters. We can only hope that, now that Noem’s friends Sanderson, Jones, and Schaff have been given their special time for their speeches, the Board of Education Standards will dedicate the remaining three hearings to equal time for proponents and opponents from the actual public.
But even if we set aside the sales pitches the Board granted Team Noem for the introductory and closing speeches, the public testimony pushing the Hillsdale standards came largely from tools of the conservative political machine. The people pushing back for better (or just real, workable, responsible) social studies standards were mostly teachers, the practical experts at educating our children.