SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Paul Harens is a former South Dakota educator and a member of the original 2021 social studies education content standards workgroup, which has seen its work revised, postponed and ultimately scrapped over the course of the last 12 months.
In a conversation with KELOLAND News on Friday, he expressed concerns and frustrations with the newly appointed 15-person commission, whose members have been selected by the governor’s office, and with what he believes is their ultimate goal.
“She’s bringing in the 1776 project curriculum,” Harens said, referring to Governor Kristi Noem. “Look at the other guys she’s bringing in — this Dylan Kessler — he’s a graduate of Hillsdale College.”
KELOLAND News reached out to the Office of the Governor Monday morning, seeking comments regarding the potential implementation of a 1776 Report based set of standards.
Noem’s communications director Ian Fury responded via email, saying: “Governor Noem believes our children should learn America’s true history, both the good and the bad, and that a stronger emphasis should be placed on civics education that instills a sense of pride in our country. That is why she was the first candidate in the country to sign the 1776 Pledge. “
Kessler is a member of the new commission and the director of a retirement community. As referenced by Harens, Kessler is an alum of Hillsdale College, a conservative private college in Michigan.
Fury is also an alum of Hillsdale, but that’s not the end of the Hillsdale tie-ins.
“The one who did the interviewing for all these positions — you had professor William Morrisey,” said Harens. Morrisey is a professor emeritus at Hillsdale College, where he taught politics.
Morrisey, now retired, is currently a city commissioner for the City of Hillsdale, Michigan. His term expires later this year.
Asked about Morrisey’s involvement, Fury said this:
Mr. Morrisey’s selection as facilitator ensures the process is led by a well-credentialed educator in the field. The DOE has not in the past required facilitators to be from South Dakota, and it did not do so here, either. Ultimately, the Board of Education Standards will hold public hearings and will make the final decision on the new standards. The people of South Dakota will have several opportunities to provide input on that final draft through the public hearing process.Ian Fury
Morrisey double majored in political science and English at Kenyon College, earning a Bachelor of Arts. He got his Master’s degree and Ph.D. in liberal studies at the New School for Social Research.
A Hillsdale colleague, college president Larry Arnn, served on the 1776 commission, established by former President Donald Trump. The commission created the 1776 report.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, also a member of the commission, would later go on to champion the ‘1776 pledge to save our schools’, which Noem became the first public office candidate to sign in May 2021.
During her January 2022 State of the State address, Noem would again be joined by Carson as she addressed ‘Critical Race Theory’ and said students received a “distorted view of history,” and that they need to know “true and honest history.”
Morrisey was not the only person conducting interviews for the selection process. Harens lists Allen Cambon, a senior policy advisor for Noem as another.
“Now he does have an undergraduate degree — I think in government,” said Harens.
Cambon has a Bachelor’s degree in history from Louisiana State University, according to his bio on the governor’s office website.
The third member of the interview process also is a point of concern for Harens.
“Dr. Ben Jones, from the State Historical Society — is a former head of the Department of Education — but also, he was on the interview committee,” Harens said.
Jones is also a member of the new commission, and while Harens does believe he is qualified, he also feels it is strange that a member of the commission was also in charge of selecting members.
The make of the commission overall is also an issue for Harens.
“You have several college people,” he said. “Why aren’t there people from elementary and secondary with expertise in social studies?”
Harens’ other big concern is the size of the new group, which has been condensed from 44 members to 15.
“There was an advantage to having that larger pool,” Harens said, explaining that the 44 members split into smaller groups of four-five members in order to tackle specific subjects within social studies such as world history and geography.
The process for the original workgroup took two months from when they were approved to when they submitted their draft. Harens does not think 15 people can do that same work in that time frame.
“I want to know how these 15 people are going to get through K-12,” he asked, rhetorically. “They can’t do it. The only way they can get through these K-12 standards is if standards are handed to them — those will be the 1776 curriculum, which is already drawn up.”