South Dakota Board of Education Standards pulls new social studies standards across finish line

The controversial standards have become a hot button political issue since they first came up for discussion and revision in early 2021.
After years of back and forth, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards has adopted controversial new social studies standards.
Published: Apr. 17, 2023 at 6:07 PM MDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - In 2021, Governor Kristi Noem delayed implementation of new social studies standards, wanting to get more feedback from stakeholders.

Now, nearly two years later, those new standards have been adopted by the South Dakota Board of Education Standards. But opponents argue that they weren’t sufficiently a part of the process.

Those opponents included teachers, Native American activists, and lobbyist groups representing parts of the public education system.

The two primary arguments presented over the last several months against the standards focused on the complexity of them for younger, elementary aged students. For example, first graders would be required to memorize the preamble of the United States Constitution under the new standards.

The other argument suggested that standards attempted to “whitewash” history, effectively overlooking the state’s rich Native American history.

“This land is built and founded on not only the erasure, but the genocide of native people,” said Honz Fuller, a high school student. “There may be a long road of reparations ahead of us to heal this deep wound, but we can start by adjusting the curriculum standards to be fair to native people.”

But supporters of the standards continued to point to examples in the proposed standards that refute that idea.

For example, students in 8th grade will be required to learn about Native American icons like Ben Reifel and Vine Deloria. In Kindergarten, students will learn about the likes of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, George Washington, and Barack Obama.

“One of the most common arguments is that these standards are too difficult, teachers have said it is too much information for these students to learn,” said Sarah Hitchcock, a former teacher and parent. “I stand against that idea, I think our students are capable, and I’ve seen it myself.”

Ultimately, by a vote of 5 to 2, the board that is tasked with periodically reviewing all education standards across the state’s public schools agreed to change the standards over strong rebuttals from the two “no” votes.

In the lead up to Monday’s vote, nearly 1300 public comments on the standards. Less than 10% of those comments were in favor of the standard changes.

Education Secretary Joe Graves used his time in rebuttal to vouch for the standards.

“This is a direction that will steep the current generation of students, and this next generation of Americans into the pageantry, and the cavalcade, and yes, the tragedies and errors of our history,” said Graves. “That will inculcate in them the demands, and the ultimate overriding benefit of our form of government.”

The standards will not officially go into place until the 2025-2026 school year. State officials hope that will give districts and teachers plenty of time to implement the standards.

Moments after their passage, Governor Kristi Noem celebrated the new standards in a press release.

“Today is a wonderful day for the students in South Dakota. They are our future,” Noem said. “Now, they will be taught the best social studies education in the country, one that is a true accounting of our history. We want our children to have honest and factual classroom teaching so they can be engaged participants in our civil society for the rest of their lives.”