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Draft Social Studies Standards Don’t Match What Group Submitted

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The state Department of Education released a draft of social studies content standards last week. 

However, those standards differ from the draft a working group submitted.  

The Department of Education removed references to Native American culture, including historical lore, the meaning of symbols like the star quilts, buffalo and medicine wheels.  

Those standards were included by the working group, which spent eight days in Pierre revising the state’s social studies standards.  

The department also removed several references to “indigenous Native Americans.”  

Sherry Johnson is the education director for the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. She sat on the content standards panel and says she’s disappointed in the changes.  

“That wasn’t what we wrote. That wasn’t what I wrote,” Johnson says. “That wasn’t what I was there for, to have somebody else censor history. Censor history and erase ‘Native American’ out of there.”  

It’s not clear why. The Department of Education has not returned requests for comment.  

Paul Harens is a retired social studies teacher from Yankton. He has lived in South Dakota for over 40 years. He calls the removal of the standards “a sin.”  

“We made a document that was not political. It was apolitical,” Harens says. “They have since—the Department of Education, with the changes they made—have made the document political.”  

However, Governor Kristi Noem says calling the draft a “political” document is speculation.

“And it’s all a little ridiculous, honestly,” Noem says. “What you can judge us on is the final product. The reason things are a drafts is because it’s a working draft. We’re bringing everybody to the table, taking input. We’re going to make sure we have the best product that teaches history, civics curriculum to our students in the K-12 system, and that’s why it’s still a draft.” 

Noem says indigenous history an important part of history that the state is going to include.

The Department of Education also changed a standard that calls for arguments for and against the use of the Electoral College. The department’s version says teachers should explain the purpose of the Electoral College.  

Social studies content standards were last updated in 2015. The first public comment period on the new draft content standards is September 20th in Aberdeen.