SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Ahead of the November 21 social studies standard public hearing, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards has released more than 800 pages of public comments.

The comments, which can be submitted until 2 p.m. CT on Friday, November 18, include current and former educators, parents/guardians, and members of the public who either are in support of or against the standards.

While there are several comments in favor of the proposed standards, the majority of the 800 pages are filled with opposition.

Many of the comments opposed to the proposed standards center around concern that they are not “developmentally appropriate” for the various grade levels.

“Although I appreciate the ambitious nature of these standards, I am very concerned that this is more of a political move rather than a revision that keeps our teachers’ and students’ true best interests in mind,” Jamey Strom wrote. “The rigor and specificity of content knowledge presented, particularly in the elementary years, are very demanding and would likely consume much of the instructional day to truly help students master the skills listed.”

Amy Pryor, a proponent of the standards, feels the opposite saying that students will rise to new expectations.

“When I think of the vast injustice being done to students nationwide right now, allowing them to do less because more is perceived as “too hard”, I am saddened and dismayed. Students deserve the opportunity to be challenged and educated well. It is the only way to produce concerned, responsible citizens for our future,” Pryor wrote.

Those in favor of the standards cited their opposition to Critical Race Theory saying that the standards remove the theory from South Dakota education.

Charlies Kliche said the standards shouldn’t use, “…that CRT stuff, or anti-white, anti anybody, anti-colonialism stuff.”

“Thank you for not teaching CRT and promoting propaganda / brainwashing of our kiddos!” Susan Luschas wrote.

Critical Race Theory, a postgraduate academic theory primarily used in law school, is not currently present in South Dakota K-12 schools after an evaluation of materials done by the Department of Education over the summer.

The report found two instances of “inherently divisive concepts” present in an advanced level law enforcement course “not frequently” taught at the K-12 and not currently being offered in schools.

Educators speak out against standards

Several educators submitted comments opposing the standards saying that the memorization and quantity of standards was not feasible for students.

Keegan Hecht, a teacher in Brandon, said that there would be little time to teach the standards required for 9-12th grade United States Government.

“The US History and US government standards also duplicate some standards/content which at my HS, students are already learning possibly simultaneously when they’re juniors when they take [US]history and possibly also US government. I don’t understand why there is such a focus on history within government standards when many juniors are already discussing these topics the class period before,” Hecht wrote. “Certainly some overlap is appreciated, but it seems like a lot of duplication and wasted time having to learn the same things twice a day if a student has government and US history class the same semester.”

Hecht added that the standards are an “almost philosophical approach to government” which isn’t necessarily wrong or bad, but “beyond the scope of a high school course…” He also expressed concern with the amount of knowledge students would need that are beyond a high school level.

“In other words, this Social Studies Standards committee needs multiple local South Dakotan HS history and government teachers to make sure what you are writing is reasonable and actually possible given the abilities of our students,” Hecht said.

Rapid City teacher Jennifer Macziewski took issue with the 1st grade standards, specifically the standards requiring students to understand historical events such as the Boston Massacre, French and Indian War and Boston Tea Party as well as the memorization of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“What is the value of memorizing something if it is not understood or internalized. Knowing the preamble is important as a young adult – not as a young child. Let’s replace this with understanding the Pledge of Allegiance,” Macziewski wrote.

Kelly Thompson, who is listed under the higher education identification, took issue with the 6th grade standards saying that until that point she had not seen essay writing included in the standards.

“There is repeated mention past 6th grade of writing essays based on notes. Essays should be written using textbooks, primary and secondary sources, and history books located in well-stocked school librarians,” Thomspon wrote. “The school libraries should be managed by a credentialed librarian. It is concerning that the curriculum repeatedly omits the use of library books and classroom books to write essays — or even for reading purposes.”

The opposition from teachers goes beyond the comments as educators in Sioux Falls and Harrisburg participated in a walk-in protest against the standards.

But not all teachers are opposed.

Middle school teacher Lacey Hoogland, who has experience teaching at Abiding Savior Academy as well as Black Hills Luterhan School and the Rapid City Christian School, thinks the standards are “wonderful.”

“For years we have had standards at the elementary level that focused on community helpers and what is going on in the students’ community,” Hoogland said. “This method does not prepare students for the critical thinking that is needed as an adult. This method does not prepare students for the basic understanding of U.S. and World History that is needed at the secondary level.”

Hoogland said that often the students that come to her classroom have “had little to no exposure to world history or even U.S. history…”

Religion in the standards

Many comments expressed concerns about the use of religion in the standards and questioned why other religions were excluded from the curriculum.

Parent Ashley Twedt had concerns over the separation of church and state.

“Not age appropriate – the rule of Constantine and exploring the life of Jesus?! This does not belong [in] the classroom,” Twedt wrote. “Church and state are separate.”

Krista Thomas, among other comments, was in favor of the standards being from a “from a Western civilization view (Christian).”

The words “religion” and “Christian” appear more than 400 times in the released comments.

The inclusion, or lack, of Native American history

The erasure of Native American history was what prompted previous standards to be rewritten in 2021. Some of the comments for the newly proposed standards are happy to see the inclusion of Native American history but some say it’s still not enough.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) Council Member Merrie Miller-White Bull submitted a resolution from resolution from the CRST in response to the standards.

“WHEREAS, The Social Studies Standards in regards to Native Americans are missing for great spans of time as if they don’t exist, they are primarily portrayed as warlike, Native Students are made to feel embarrassed about the intended learning and thus it is divisive, Native American right to vote is missing, Native American religion is not mentioned nor was the passage of the Native American Religious Act in 1978, small pox was repeatedly mentioned as one of the only notable occurrences in Native history, Native American symbols are missing to include the Native American Flag song, Tribal Flags, and Native American Day which South Dakota
was one of the first state to recognize and adopt…,” the resolution states.

Miller-White Bull goes on to say that the social studies standards were made with no tribal consultation and are detrimental to all South Dakotans but especially the people of the Oceti Sakowin Lands.

The next social studies standards meeting will be held on Monday, November 21, 2022 at the Sioux Falls Convention Center at 9:00 a.m. Public comments can be submitted until 2 p.m. CT on November 18.

The 800 pages of comments can be read in full here.