‘We were never told there would be wholesale revision’: Workgroup member speaks out against removal of Native American history from SD education standards

KELOLAND.com Original
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Following the release of a draft of South Dakota Social Studies standards by the Department of Education (DOE) which has seen the removal of Native American history and culture, a member of the workgroup that constructed the initial proposal is speaking out.

“I’m a little upset,” said Paul Harens with a sigh.

Paul Harens is a workgroup member, and served as the world history table leader. He says he is speaking for many members of the group, who have asked him to represent them. This is due in part, he says to the fact that he is a retired South Dakota educator.

Harens says this group, comprised mainly of current and former educators from across the state, was brought together to revise the current Social Studies standards. While he says they were told tweaks to things such as grammar, order and numbering may be made, he never expected that the DOE would remove entire sections dealing with Native American issues.

Another member of the group, South Dakota State Legislator Sen. Jim Bolin of Canton, has stated that the reactions to the changes have “made a mountain out of a molehill,” and said of the revisions; “I think they’re reasonable and acceptable.”

We never dreamed there would be wholesale changes.

Paul Harens

Harens disagrees.

“When we did these standards, the number one thing on our mind was to do what was best for the students of South Dakota,” Harens said. “The thing is, we were told that changes might be made that would be primarily grammatical and/or structural,” he continued. “We never dreamed there would be wholesale changes.”

Harens feels these revisions are unprecedented. “I would challenge the DOE to show us another set of standards that were proposed any time that have had changes made like this in the last 20 years.”

These revisions, said Harens, will hurt the children of South Dakota. “They gutted what we talked about with the Indigenous Native population,” he said.

Tribal leaders in the state have spoken out against the removal of their history from the standards. Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux told KELOLAND News in an interview that he does not agree with the revisions.

“I think the true history needs to be taught,” Bordeaux said. “All South Dakota citizens need to be taught what is going on in the state and throughout the country as well — you shouldn’t gloss over it — I think our citizens deserver better. They need to know the true history so that they’ll know what they’re dealing with in terms of all the peoples in this country. Particularly in South Dakota, they need to know the history of what our tribes have faced. If you gloss over that, it’s a disservice to the citizens of the state.”

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier was also upset by the changes. “It goes back to that word respect,” he said. “Respect our lands, respect our way of life, respect our boundaries.”

The sad thing about it is that it’s going to be the kids that suffer.”

harold frazier

Frazier also expressed his disproval with the revisions with a post from his official Twitter account, where he shared this image.

Image from Twitter

Harens said he believes this reactions from Bordeaux and Frazier are appropriate. “They have every right to be upset,” he said “because specifically, the first day we met as a whole group for the first time, the Secretary of Education [Tiffany Sanderson] came in and told us that one of the things we needed to work on was to make the standards more inclusive, because that was one of the complaints from the last time they did the standards.”

“That was one of our goals,” said Harens. “They just basically did away with most of the work that we were asked to do.”

Harens said he does not know who exactly at the DOE was responsible for removing standards dealing with indigenous history and culture. He said he reached out to the DOE to ask who was responsible, and what the justification was. “Every change we made, we had to justify,” he said. “I have not heard a word back.”

In response to a question on the reason for the revisions from KELOLAND News, Deputy Secretary of Education Mary Stadick Smith replied via email, saying “The department made certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public.”

Standick Smith also noted that the standards are now open for public comment, and a final public hearing before the Board of Education Standards is tentatively scheduled for March 2022. She says the Department welcomes the public to weigh in.

When it comes to why the standards were changed, Harens has an idea. “Whether [the standards] can be re-achieved or not, I don’t know, but we are going to push to let people know — basically government interference.”

This charge of interference is one that Harens is not shy about making. “We knew it was going to happen, he said. “What we were told at that time was to ignore the publicity and background of all the noise and just do what was best for the children — the DOE made it political by putting their introduction and their preface in there, and they left ours out basically besides about one sentence — we tried to stay as apolitical as possible. We didn’t take sides.”

“I don’t think these standards should be political,” Harens said. “They should be apolitical, and I think what we wrote was.”

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