SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There is a spotlight on how social studies are taught in South Dakota. The state Board of Education Standards held a first public hearing in Aberdeen on Monday, when opponents and supporters each received time to make their arguments.
“I haven’t heard one teacher in favor of it, and I think that’s something that you have to consider pretty heavily,” Yankton High School social studies teacher Leasa Woodward said. “And I think that by and large, we want to pretend this isn’t political, but it sure seems like it’s been.”
State Sen. Al Novstrup of Aberdeen also shared his perspective.
“If you’re going to be an informed citizen, you have to have a basis of the foundation to make decisions on, and so I see this as a very comprehensive, and I see it as something that challenges the students, and that’s important,” Novstrup said.
David Flute, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations, also favors the plan.
“I share this testimony in support of the proposed social studies standards, and upon reviewing the Native components in the proposed standards, I found a well-balanced, inclusive and honest history of Native peoples in South Dakota,” Flute said.
Fred Osborn, director of South Dakota’s Office of Indian Education, approves as well.
“I was fortunate enough to be a member of this year’s social studies commission as well as a member of last year’s social studies review,” Osborn said. “Without a doubt, these proposed standards advance the learning of Native American history and culture.”
But Tamra Huffman, who was named the 2021 history teacher of the year in South Dakota by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and teaches eighth-grade history at the Harrisburg School District’s North Middle School, is not in favor.
“These standards seem to mistake that social studies is just simply memorizing names and dates,” Huffman said. “These proposed standards do not seem to grasp that the whole point of social studies is to analyze the past and the present in order to positively impact the future.”
Eric Knight, who serves as superintendent, elementary principal and curriculum director for the Centerville School District, says his testimony came “from the perspective of my district’s teachers.”
“First, from our elementary teachers: the proposed standards are not too hard, they’re not too rigorous, they’re just developmentally inappropriate,” Knight said. “Our first graders’ current standards are learning about time such as yesterday, today, tomorrow. As written, the proposed standards would require things like ancient history.”
Shannon Malone, director of the division of learning and instruction with the South Dakota Department of Education, said that 707 public comments came in via the internet or standard mail; these included 25 neutral comments, 67 proponents and 615 opponents. This checks out to more than 86% being in opposition.