All young people should have equal access to an education that includes learning the complete history of this country, including the experiences and viewpoints of marginalized communities.
Unfortunately, in the United States, too many public schools fail to teach about diverse communities in their curriculum. For Native Americans, this disparity is even more stark. According to the National Congress of American Indians, 27 states make no mention of Native Americans in their K-12 curriculum, and 87 percent of state history standards do not mention Native American history after 1900.
South Dakota academic content standards serve as expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. But the latest set of social studies standards for South Dakota’s K-12 public schools are an example of ongoing colonialism and discrimination against Indigenous students and Tribes in South Dakota.
Today, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards is hearing public comment about the proposed K-12 social studies standards. ACLU of South Dakota Legal Director Stephanie Amiotte has prepared testimony in opposition to the proposed standards.
Revisions to K-12 content standards is a process that happens once every seven years. But for the social studies standards this time around, it’s taking a bit longer – and the process has been fraught with contention.
In 2021, more than 50 South Dakota teachers, museum experts, and professors spent eight days in Pierre drafting new standards for the state’s K-12 social studies curriculum. The working group’s draft recommendations included Native American history and culture – everything from Oceti Ŝakowiŋ stories in kindergarten to comparing and contrasting the structure of the U.S. government and sovereign tribal governments in eighth grade to studying tribal banking systems in high school.
But none of that was included in the draft of the social studies standards initially released by the Department of Education last year. Outraged by the “whitewashing” of the standards, nearly 600 people submitted public comment against these proposed changes in 2021.
In response, Gov. Kristi Noem announced she was relaunching the social studies standards revision process. The smaller workgroup, members of which Gov. Noem had a hand in appointing, was facilitated by William Morrisey, a former professor of Hillsdale College in Michigan who wrote the standards for the new committee to merely review and revise rather than allowing them to create the standards along with him
That brings us to where we are today.
While the initial workgroup’s standards provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to feel welcome, respected and encouraged to receive education relevant to their culture, similar to what White students already receive within South Dakota’s public school system. The revised set of standards, however, still fall short of the depth of Native American topics and Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings previously recommended, despite claims otherwise by the South Dakota Department of Education.
The ACLU of South Dakota urges the Board of Education Standards not to accept the proposed social studies standards.
The more South Dakota students can learn about our history – the good, the bad and the ugly – and the lessons it can teach us, as well as Indigenous perspectives, the better prepared they will be to tackle the inequities and injustices present in our communities. It will also foster acceptance of diversity and combat racial discrimination.