Proponent Testimony for the Proposed Social Studies Standards
Here is my complete prepared statement for the Board of Education hearing that took place in Rapid City Friday, February 10, 2023. I was (almost) able to deliver my testimony in four minutes.
For the video of my comments, click here:
In 2008 I obtained my first assistant directorship at a local preschool. I walked into a classroom where the teacher had a group of three-year-old students gathered around her. She pointed to a map and said, "Today, we're going to learn the states; this is the state of Illinois. You can remember that it's Illinois because that's where Abraham Lincoln is from, and Abraham Lincoln is on the penny." You can imagine where this is going because three-year-olds usually have no idea what a state is or who Abraham Lincoln is, and a fairly good portion might not know what a penny is. Early education must be broken down into fundamental levels. Then that basic knowledge can be built upon, which is one of the defining factors of the new proposed social studies standards- every year builds on the one that came before, resulting in a comprehensive, robust curriculum.
I understand and appreciate some of the concerns; this is expansive, which reminds me of the vigorous curriculum children received in the past.
As people have been reaching out to me over the past few months, I have been troubled by some things I have heard. I hope this doesn't indicate that some of them didn't actually read the standards, but there seems to be a commonality, almost word for word, that is simply inaccurate. So here are the top three myths in my last three minutes.
Myth #1-The standards were developed by one person.
The Social Studies Standards Revision Commission created the proposed standards, 15 people- history and government experts, some of my legislative colleagues, representatives from the Native American community, business leaders, and educators at both the K-12 and higher education levels- and parents- from across South Dakota. There was a draft provided by Professor Morrissey based on work by Hillsdale College, but that was indeed a skeleton with items eliminated, added, and edited. Anyone who might wonder if this is a cookie-cutter solution needs to dig through the document and review the detail- Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings are included in every grade. It's nice to think that Michigan would be fascinated with our state-specific Native American course standards and important figures in the early statehood of South Dakota, but it's simply not the case. These standards have been tailor-made for the state of South Dakota. And finally, in addressing the one-man myth, this is still the proposed draft. We are in the process of the public comment period. In this circumstance, the opportunity for participation in person has been provided as well as written statements and zoom testimony, so everyone truly does have the chance to weigh in.
Myth #2: The standards are whitewashing history.
I already mentioned the incredibly detailed inclusion of the Oceti Sakowin standards throughout this proposed plan. This myth is where I pause because standards specifically outlining Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson's contributions but also ownership of slaves, Martin Luther King Jr, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, Clarence Thomas, Barack Obama, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Black Elk, the Treaty of Ft Laramie, the Treaty of Yankton, the Dakota War, the effects of boarding schools on Native Americans, the formation of the NAACP, students being able to explain why slavery is morally evil does not indicate whitewashing anything. On the contrary, it truly allows students to hold our country up to an objective measure of moral right and wrong, highlighting how our country has done well and correcting how sometimes it has been misguided.
Myth #3 These standards will be impossible to implement.
That teacher's soul that still lives inside of me reads these standards and looks at the possibilities for shifting creativity for curriculum, this is an art project, and this is a play, and this is a song, this is a group activity, and this is a science experiment, and this is a leadership immersion exercise- at all levels of K-12 education. This is the kind of challenge I have always loved as a teacher.
For the opponents, when you're looking at this, don't throw your hands in the air and say, "It can't be done!" Don't waste this precious time today putting up walls. I hope counter arguments will be framed in the possibility of "what if." For example, "I like this section, but what if we approached this concept in this way," or, "What if this concept was introduced this way at this time." The education system we utilize in the United States hasn't even been in place for 100 years; states didn't even begin funding kindergarten until between 1966 – 1975. Anyone who is inquisitive, innovative, and committed to knowledge should be open to improving processes in education.
If you are interested in reading the proposed social studies standards, click here: https://doe.sd.gov/ContentStandards/documents/Revised-Proposed-SS-Standards-011323.pdf