S.D. history board wades into the battle over social studies standards

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The long fight over South Dakota’s proposed standards for teaching K-12 social studies moved into yet another ring Friday: The State Historical Society board of trustees.

The trustees, in a muddled split decision, passed a resolution calling for more references to the Oceti Sakowin traditions, beliefs and people.

The past chair, Brad Tennant of Aberdeen, offered it.

His resolution said the board should be advocating that “a fuller, more inclusive history regarding the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, along with other regional and prehistoric native cultures, be included as part of the South Dakota Social Studies Standards.”

Tennant, who teaches history at Presentation College, said this was a chance to acknowledge the importance of the Oceti Sakowin in South Dakota’s history.

The state Board of Education Standards holds the first of four public hearings on the proposal on Monday, September 20, at Holgate Middle School’s theater in Aberdeen. The second hearing will be Monday, November 15, at the Instructional Planning Center in Sioux Falls. The third and fourth hearings will be in 2022 in Pierre and Rapid City.

State Historian Ben Jones, who previously was state education secretary for Governor Kristi Noem, defended the proposed standards Friday. Jones, who doubles as director for the state Office of History, said indigenous people were already in the proposal. “I’m not opposed to the motion,” Jones said, “but frankly it’s kind of redundant.”

The proposal that had been drafted by dozens of educators and others was clearly changed after it went to the state Department of Education. Many references, especially regarding Native Americans, were taken out.

Trustees David Wolff of Spearfish and Rolene Schliesman of Wilmot backed Tennant — “It’s an opportunity to show clear support for inclusion,” she texted — as did John Fowler of Elk Point. “It sounds like a great resolution,” he said.

The trustees’ current chair, Sean Flynn of Mitchell, said the fourth-grade standards as now proposed were “unacceptable.” Flynn, who teaches history at Dakota Wesleyan University, said Herbert Schell wrote an entire chapter on Native Americans in his South Dakota history.

However, Flynn said Tennant’s resolution went beyond the trustees’ role as an advisory board. Flynn agreed there was a gap in the proposed standards, but he wanted to first hear the public’s comments at the September and November hearings by the Board of Education Standards.

“I would rather us wait,” Flynn said.

Five trustees voted for the resolution. At least three voted against; the rollcall result wasn’t clear. Four trustees participated by video conference, on a connection that was fuzzy for some of them, and two didn’t attend. Either two abstained, or one abstained and four voted against.

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