HARRISBURG, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota school administrators are starting to speak out against the proposed changes to social studies standards announced this week by the Department of Education.
The draft standards, created by a 15-member commission, include a stated goal that history and civics instructions should be free from political agendas and activism. But the superintendent of South Dakota’s third-largest district has concerns about the standard’s effects on both students and teachers.
The Department of Education released the 120-page proposal on Monday, with Governor Kristi Noem saying these standards will raise the bar for the breadth and depth of civics and history education. But the superintendent of the Harrisburg School District has concerns over the makeup of the state’s commission and whether the standards really will be politically neutral.
It’s orientation week in the Harrisburg district with kids returning to school next Tuesday. But the proposed social studies standards are as much on the mind of the superintendent as making sure kids have a strong start to the school year.
“Social studies standards have become a hot topic here in the last week among educators as we’re trying to get ready to open the school year. But I think there’s lots of concerns and questions out there,” Harrisburg School Superintendent Tim Graf said.
Questions like whether the proposed social studies and civics standards might force-feed some students content that they’re too young to digest.
“Now we’ve moved to propose that we talk about the Peloponnesian War and learning about Russian emperors and the Russian Empire and those things. I know I was still learning to tie my shoes in first grade,” Graf said.
Graf is concerned that the new standards will have a chilling effect on what’s being taught in South Dakota schools and prompt more teachers to leave the profession altogether.
“Just like a salesperson, if you don’t believe in what you sell, it’s hard to be a salesperson. And if you don’t believe in what you’re teaching, and you don’t believe it’s age-appropriate, it’s just one more mandate that comes down,” Graf said.
Governor Kristi Noem says the proposed standards will provide a balanced approach that is not influenced by political agendas. But Graf says teachers were, for the most part, cut out of the process, and that could open the door to politics in the classroom.
“We have an obligation to be neutral. But this feels like something that is really, actually being political, rather than the opposite,” Graf said.
Graf says he’s encouraged that Native American history is getting more attention in the proposed standards. Something that critics say was lacking in a standards draft that came out last year.