South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is under pressure from educators and community leaders in her state over a proposed school curriculum that eliminates many draft sections related to Native American history.
The row comes as Republican statehouses and governors – Ms Noem included – rail against the notion that history curricula should include subjects such as racism, slavery or the theft of land from Native peoples.
The latest bone of contention in South Dakota is a document recently released by the South Dakota Department of Education setting out content standards for social studies teachers. The standards were informed by recommendations from a working group appointed by the department; that group submitted a draft of the standards, and its recommendations are largely carried over to the latest version – but there are some startling exceptions, particularly when it comes to Native American history.
The fifth grade history standards, for example, no longer include the original requirement that students be able to “Describe the impact other countries had on Indigenous Native Americans in North and South America through exploration, conflict, and colonization”. Instead, students have a more generic standard to meet: “Evaluate the physical and social effects of key conflicts with other countries on North America, from the Age of Exploration through the Revolutionary War.”
In economics, fifth graders will still have to “Analyze the role of trade in early North American History” – but the standard no longer includes “trade among Indigenous Native American groups and Europeans”, as the original draft did.
And while the rubric for eighth grade is largely carried over, the final document omits one key part of the draft: “Students will acknowledge the ancestral home of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate and recognize the historical and contemporary voices of South Dakota’s Indigenous Native Americans.”
Perhaps most strikingly, the preface to the department’s version of the document eliminates any reference to Native Americans at all.
As one of the working group members told the Associated Press, “Here we are again; the Native population is not worthy of being taught.”
In a statement to the agency, the department said it “made certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public”, and described the standards as “a balanced, age-appropriate approach”. The standards will eventually be reviewed and approved by a Board of Education Standards, whose members are appointed by the governor.
Ms Noem is now something of a star on the right of the Republican Party, having raised a national profile over the last 18 months by resisting many suggested Covid-19 social distancing measures, including by allowing large events to go ahead.
She has joined the ranks of Republican leaders taking a stand against progressive, so-called “woke” curriculum proposals by signing up to the “1776 Pledge To Save Our Schools”, a bulleted list of statements that align with a conservative view of what history is for. As one item reads: “Teaching children to hate their country and each other is immoral and deeply harmful to our society and must be stopped.”
Ms Noem recently signed an executive order banning officials within the South Dakota Department of Education from applying for civics or history grants until after the 2022 election, a move her office said was designed to ban any and all grants related to critical race theory – a school of social and historical thought largely taught at college level that the hardline right has lately misrepresented as a project of hardcore left-wing indoctrination.
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