SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A longtime South Dakota social studies teacher, who’s now retired, is raising concerns over the new social studies content standards proposed by the South Dakota Board of Education.
Becky Kelley, who taught for 38 years, says the proposal places too much emphasis on memorizing names and dates, and not enough on analyzing important events in history.
Kelley says the draft proposal’s aims for teaching social studies and civics are long on facts, but short on substance, and don’t offer enough time for students to learn it all.
“We have so much information to understand it, and we don’t have enough time to get it done. And this curriculum seems to to be really top-heavy with factual information, which is going to leave little time for the analysis,” Kelley said.
In addition to her many years at Washington High School, Kelley also taught for two years on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. She says she’s encouraged by more emphasis on Native American history in the South Dakota standards but says their goals are too vague.
“It says students will know this about Native American history. But know what about it? Will they know who Sitting Bull is?” Kelley said.
Kelley says social studies teachers are often caught in the cross-hairs of hyper-partisanship from both sides of the political divide, and that means what they teach students can be misinterpreted outside of the classroom.
“Kids come home and say something very innocently. But then the parents were like, wait a minute, this is what my kid told me you were doing in the classroom? And I’m like that’s not what, I mean the kid wasn’t lying, it’s just the way they were relaying it to parents,” Kelley said.
Kelley says those partisan sensitivities regarding education grew through her final decade in the classroom. Now she hopes teachers currently in the profession can offer social studies instructions without fear of political backlash.
Kelley says she’s disappointed that not enough South Dakota teachers were included in the 15-member commission that drew up the standards. The Department of Education issued a statement to KELOLAND News on Thursday stating: “Final candidates were selected to ensure a broad range of professional backgrounds and experience.”
Meanwhile, the Board of Education postponed next week’s public hearing to discuss proposed rules that would have “prohibited the adoption of content standards that promote inherently divisive concepts.” The DOE says the meeting has been postponed in order to review comments from the public.