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Secretary of Education Graves to Teachers: Be Stoic!

Secretary of Education Joseph Graves has never been a great friend of teachers.  Once upon a time, he wanted to strip teachers of labor protections and subject their pay raises to arbitrary and counterproductive measures of merit. Now, facing chronic teacher shortages and a squandered opportunity to lift South Dakota’s teacher pay out of the national gutter, Graves tells teachers to read ancient philosophy and be stoic about their duties.

Graves published his first book “Renewing the Joys of Teaching: How the Principles of Stoicism can Return Fulfillment to the Classroom,” which became available in hard copy earlier this year. It’s the culmination of about three months of work.

A student of history himself, Graves reinforces his book’s hypothesis, borne out in the title, with the likes of philosophers Marcus Aurelius, Aristotle, and Epictetus. He uses their works to argue that worn out educators can rediscover their sense of purpose through the lens of stoicism [Austin Goss, “Education Secretary’s Book Offers Roadmap for Post-Pandemic Education,” The Dakota Scout (paywalled), 2023.11.19].

Zeno of Mitchell—Joseph Graves as great Greek philosopher.
Zeno of Mitchell—Joseph Graves as great Greek philosopher.

I can’t bring myself to give Dr. Graves any portion of the $28.50 Amazon wants for an electronic version of his philosophical pretense. But when Stoic Epictetus tells teachers from behind a two-millennia veil of dusty death to be “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy , dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy,” I hear Dr. Graves dressing in pretentious Grecian robes an admonishment to teachers to quit their griping, be content with virtue and low pay, and bow to the will of the Governor and Hillsdale College to teach nothing but the whitewashed classics.

By the way, Graves’s Amazon bio says the Secretary has “four children and ten grandchildren, about whom he is anything but stoic.” Hmmm… so even Graves implies that stoicism is an inappropriate response to things about which he most deeply cares.


  1. larry kurtz 2023-11-21 07:00

    Killing public education has been the goal of the Republican Party for decades so anyone who hasn’t heard the Birchers like Betsy DeVos shouting cultural marxism to control the narrative hasn’t been listening.

  2. sx123 2023-11-21 07:37

    “Always look on the bright side of life. *whistle* *whistle*…” – Monty Python

  3. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 08:18

    Stoicism is the philosophy I most closely identify with. This is not Stoicism. Stoicism teaches you to be strict with yourself and lenient towards others. I might “stoically” tolerate doing what I perceive to be extra work for no extra pay. However, I would be appalled to see a person in power use me as an example as to why teachers don’t need raises and better working conditions. Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful person in the world. Mr. Graves needs to read his copy of Meditations more closely. Epictetus was a freed slave. Mr. Graves needs to read his copy of the Discourses/Enchiridion more closely too.

  4. O 2023-11-21 08:24

    . . . or the man heading the state agency with the power to improve the happiness of teachers across the state should use his power to do just that?

    Teachers are not superheroes; teaching is not a calling that should require sacrifice; teaching is a profession and should be treated as such.

  5. e platypus onion 2023-11-21 08:37

    he wanted to strip teachers of labor protections…magats have done that to women of child bearing years, too.

  6. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 09:24

    I’ll also add that someone who studies Stoicism should be able to notice that teachers are some of the most Stoic people in this country. It’s “leaders” like him who could use much more work.

  7. O 2023-11-21 09:42

    Stoicism holds that becoming a clear and unbiased thinker allows one to understand the universal reason (I had to look that up on Wikipedia). Any clear and unbiased thinker should flee the profession of teaching in SD with all possible haste. Any and all opportunities that SD can provide in education can be provided in other states with a far more rewarding upside. One thing the COVID pandemic demonstrated is public education is essential to the health and wellbeing of this nation: its children and their parents. The “deep state” can only go so far propping up the social institutions denigrated by elected conservative leaders. That is a fool’s errand; do that work in places that progressive leaders will support your efforts. The LAST thing any SD teachers should do is stoically accept your poor fate. Express some Dylan Thomas “rage.”

  8. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 11:05

    Looking something up on Wikipedia can be a fine introduction, but suggests one doesn’t have a deep understanding of the subject. Stoicism would most certainly allow for one to rationally make the decision to teach in a different state. It also allows for rationally deciding to stay.

  9. O 2023-11-21 11:59

    Ben, what is the rational argument to stay in SD as a teacher? Teachers who stay in SD are defying reason to do so.

  10. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 12:39

    O-Ask yourself why you stay in the US instead of moving to a more progressive country. Ask yourself why you comment on a blog devoted to SD politics when you seem to suggest it’s a hopeless cause. Your answer to those questions are probably why many continue to live and teach in SD.

  11. Edwin Arndt 2023-11-21 13:18

    Teaching provides health insurance for the entire family. There are a number of
    scenarios where it makes sense to be a teacher in South Dakota.
    One spouse may be a farmer, carpenter, over the road trucker, or involved in any number
    of independent businesses that do not provide health insurance.

  12. Edwin Arndt 2023-11-21 13:20

    On stoicism, that’s what you practice when all else fails.

  13. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 13:29

    Edwin-While I might dispute that notion, I see what you’re saying. However, even then, life tends to provide a lot of opportunities to practice it :-).

  14. O 2023-11-21 13:56

    Ben, my only answer is that I am NOT following reason. If I were truly dedicated to the stoic notion of finding (and acting) on the highest, the true reason, I would not be here. My argument is still that Graves’ reasoning does not hold up.

    Edwin, health insurance is neither limited to teaching nor SD employment. Certainly a farmer is constrained by his or her land, but the other jobs are not. Teaching in Iowa, Minnesota, California . . . all provide health insurance and would allow one’s spouse to truck, construct or run a small business.

  15. Edwin Arndt 2023-11-21 14:47

    O, another possibility is that a fair number of teachers, do not find South Dakota as
    onerous as you do. Also, I overheard someone once say, “ever notice how many
    farmers are married to teachers or nurses?”

  16. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 14:57

    O- The three main Stoic works we have were written by individuals from different walks of life. Neither of them felt the need to “leave their post” as it were. Therefore it’s reasonable to stay wherever you are within the Stoic framework. Like I said Stoicism allows for leaving wherever you are too, with a reasoned choice. That includes leaving this life altogether if you so reasonably decide. Epictetus would make this point by saying “the door is always open”. This refers to taking one’s life. I’m not sure I subscribe to that, but it is within the Stoic framework.

    As for Mr. Graves, we both seem to be in agreement that his stance isn’t one of sound reason.

  17. bearcreekbat 2023-11-21 16:12

    “[W]hat is the rational argument to stay in SD as a teacher?” Wouldn’t depend on the particular objectives of an individual? For example, if achieving the highest possible level of pay for teaching was the over-riding objective, then it seems quite reasonable to arguing staying in SD is not rational. Certainly many other objectives, such as a desire to live in a different political climate, would make it irrational to stay,

    But just as many, if not more, objectives likely exist that make staying in SD a rational act for a teacher. For example, if avoiding the disruption of relocating one’s family and children and avoiding starting over in a new position constituted the highest objectives, then it would be rational to stay put, even in SD, and somewhat irrational to move for some other less compelling reason, such as higher wages or political makeup of the community. Likewise, if the teacher has an elderly parent that resides in SD and is not inclined to leave, and that teacher wishes to be near that parent to provide personal care and support, then it would be rational for a teacher to remain in SD.

  18. O 2023-11-21 16:33

    bearcreekbat, I must reject your objectives for staying in SD as more rooted in entropy or stagnation rather than rational, reasoned choices. Not only teachers an not only SD, but many stay in positions familiar because (not in spite of) never really making the ultimate assessment through reason. I would still also assert that the greatness of SD teaching can easily be found elsewhere; what makes SD teaching is not unique to this setting; however, the drawbacks are unique. Even the proximity argument must be subject to rational logic and a wholistic view. My point is not to run down the decision to teach (or continue to teach) in SD — albeit I seem to be doing pretty good job of it — but to criticize a purely rational/stoic paradigm leading teachers to say. Staying contradicts the stoic’s rejection of distress and fear in a purely logical assessment.

  19. Edwin Arndt 2023-11-21 16:46

    I seriously doubt that there exists anywhere but in the abstract any such thing as a purely
    logical assessment of any situation. It depends on every individual situation and individual

  20. grudznick 2023-11-21 18:24

    They should indeed raise a statute like that for this man, Dr. Graves, the father of Law Bill and impetus behind which the Seven Indisputable Levels of Teachers was created. The SILT serves strongly to categorize teachers to this day, and sort them out for other purposes by the fatcat administrators who subscribe to the philosophies of Dr. Graves. I am sure there is a place in mind for this next statute to be added to the grounds outside the legislatures.

  21. Ben Cerwinske 2023-11-21 18:43

    “Staying contradicts the stoic’s rejection of distress and fear in a purely logical assessment” This is not what Stoicism says. At all. There should be a maxim about not commenting on an issue until you’ve gotten past the Wikipedia phase. provides the most accessible information on Stoicism for those interested.

  22. larry kurtz 2023-11-21 18:45

    South Dakota is a spanner cast into the works of every Connecticut Yankee’s hope for American democracy by design: ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

  23. Todd Epp 2023-11-21 19:37

    Dr. Graves wrote a book about state Sen. Jim Stoick, R-Mobridge?

  24. tara volesky 2023-11-21 21:37

    I worked for Jim Stoick when I was in HS in Mobridge. How does Graves know Jim Stoick? I grew up right across the street from Stoick’s Super Value.

  25. bearcreekbat 2023-11-22 00:29

    O, in any logical analysis, one must identify the premises relied upon to reach a logical conclusion. Here is an attempt to explicitly identify most of the premises for my suggestion that it can be a logical choice for a teacher to remain in SD. Of course, each premise may well be open to dispute, especially those premises based primarily on opinion.

    1. In John Doe’s opinion and value system personally caring for his parent is his most important duty
    2. John Doe’s parent resides in SD and cannot be forced to move to another state
    3. John Doe needs income to personally care for his parent
    4. While John Doe could substantially increase his income by moving to another state, his current SD teacher’s income is sufficient to personally care for his parent
    5. Staying in SD and continuing to work as a teacher will enable John Doe to personally care for his parent.
    6. If John Doe remains in SD and leaves his teaching job he will not have sufficient income to personally care for his parent.
    7. If John Doe moves away from SD he will not be able to personally care for his parent, regardless of his income.
    8. John Doe’s objective is to fulfill his duty to personally care for his parent.

    John Doe should remain in SD and continue to teach.

    Assuming my premises are correct, do you agree that the above conclusion is logical (i.e. rational)? If you find any of the premises to be factually incorrect, can you explain which ones are incorrect and why? Finally, similar to what you said, my point is not to defend the decision to teach (or continue to teach) in SD, rather it is to establish that such a choice can be a rational and logical choice, even if I might make a completely different choice.

  26. Donald Pay 2023-11-22 08:33

    I like parts of stoicism, but, I’m more emotional and empathetic than most stoics.

  27. PWK 2023-11-22 22:14

    Graves is a charlatan, parading around in the dress of a old testament prophet, while guzzling the Roman Governor’s wine

  28. M.B Reiners 2024-01-07 13:34

    I propose free lunches for all kids K-6 in public schools in SD.
    We waste so much. Feed them all.
    Graves has a history of spending money. All the way back to his time in Jessup IA.


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