Editor’s Note: The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, and we have been asked by South Dakota citizens to comment on the South Dakota Social Studies Standards(Draft, Proposed 8/15/22). We conclude that the South Dakota Departments of Education has provided excellent social studies standards—although we provide a series of suggestions in detail for how to further improve these fine Standards.
We have sent the following letter to the South Dakota Department of Education.
South Dakota Department of Education
800 Governors Dr.
Pierre, SD 57501
January 12, 2023
Dear South Dakota Department of Education,
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, and we have been asked by South Dakota citizens to comment on the South Dakota Social Studies Standards (Draft, Proposed 8/15/22).1
The National Association of Scholars and the Civics Alliance enthusiastically commend these Draft Standards. We believe these standards are a tribute to the good work of the Social Studies Content Standards Commission, excellent in themselves and among the best in the nation. They are an extraordinary improvement over the draft standards issued on August 5, 2021, which would have inflicted a politicized, content-poor social studies education on South Dakota students.2 We strongly urge the South Dakota Department of Education to adopt the Draft Standards of 8/15/22.
We also believe these Social Studies Standards can still be improved. Our suggestions derive in good measure from the emphases of the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards.3 We recognize, however, that South Dakota has chosen a different model for its Standards, and we make our suggestions without seeking to impose the American Birthright approach in detail. We make our suggestions as ways to enhance what is already a splendid draft social studies standard.
The Draft Standards: Excellent Accomplishments
The Draft Standards provide a coherent, rigorous, content-based, and patriotic guide to social studies instruction. Its virtues include:
- The Draft Standards takes a clear stand against both the discriminatory ideologies commonly referred to as Critical Race Theory and the subordination of social studies instruction to political activism.
- The Draft Standards provides factual content, rather than imposing “skills” instruction that is frequently counter-productive and always reduces the time available to learn factual knowledge.
- The Draft Standards’ format is absolutely clear and its language virtually devoid of jargon and euphemism. Any teacher can understand the Draft Standards at a glance—and so can parents who wish to hold their schools accountable for teaching their children properly.
- The Draft Standards provide a thorough education, keyed to the development of the ideas and institutions of liberty, in the core history of Western Civilization, of the United States, of South Dakota, and of the Native American tribes of South Dakota.
- The Draft Standards’ emphasis on spiraled instruction (concepts repeated at greater levels of detail in succeeding years) and memorization provides an effective framework for instruction.
- The Draft Standards provides joint instruction in patriotism and liberty—and should be wonderfully effective in producing South Dakota citizens who think freely and love their country.
- The Draft Standards thoughtfully integrates instruction at each grade level into a coherent whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts.
- The Draft Standards keys its level of rigor to a challenging but achievable level for students at each grade level.
In sum, the Draft Standards have aimed to create an excellent guideline to social studies instruction, and they have very largely succeeded in their ambition.
The Draft Standards: Suggestions for Improvement
At the same time, the Draft Standards can be improved—albeit from a high level of achievement.
- Writing Expectations: The Draft Standards provide concrete writing expectations, but at too low a level. (Essay requirements, pp. 29, 36, 43, 49, 63, 73, 90, 113.) Social studies writing expectations should build toward students capable by graduation from high school of writing an intellectually and stylistically sophisticated 10-page history paper, which demonstrates that they are prepared for an undergraduate history course.4
We urge the Department of Education to incorporate more rigorous writing expectations at the different grade levels.
- Western Civilization: The Draft Standards frame their instruction as World History, but the substance is largely that of Western Civilization. We believe not only that Western Civilization should be the priority in social studies instruction but also that it is best taught as a discrete unit.
We urge the Department of Education to re-commit itself formally to providing standards for Western Civilization as a discrete topic of social studies instruction throughout the K-12 curriculum.5
- World History: We also believe that World History deserves sustained attention in a course of its own.
We urge the Department of Education to commit itself to providing standards for a discrete course in World History, to complement these draft Standards excellent material for American History and Western Civilization.6
- American Culture: The Draft Standards provides too little material on America’s common culture. The high school United States History standards (pp. 89-111), for example, only includes the Hudson River School (p. 103), Art Deco (p. 107), the Harlem Renaissance and jazz music (p. 107), and Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial (p. 107).7 South Dakota students should learn far more American cultural history.
We urge the Department of Education to augment the Draft Standards with sustained material on the common culture of the American nation.
- Western Culture: The same critique applies to The Draft Standards’ coverage of Western culture in their World History sequence, which is similarly brief.8 South Dakota students should learn far more intensively about the history of Western culture.
We urge the Department of Education to augment the Draft Standards with sustained material on the history of Western culture.
- Native American History: The Draft Standards’ coverage of Native American history provides little history of Native American peoples outside of South Dakota.
We urge the Department of Education to include comprehensive and comparative coverage of the different pre-Columbian peoples of North America and their interactions with different European settlers, both in its regular American history instruction and in its proposed stand-alone course in Native American History and Civics.9
- Tendentious Language: The Draft Standards occasionally use tendentious language. “Capitalism” and “capitalist” are inventions of socialist polemic, predicated on Marx’s mistaken economics, and overwhelmingly used as invective against the free market rather than as historical description.
We urge the Department of Education to remove such words from the Standards.
- Euphemisms: The Draft Standards use the peculiar phrase “violation of the rights and lives” thrice in the high school World History standards. (9-12.WH.9.H-I, pp. 80-81; 9.12.WH.10.C, p. 81) This phrase euphemizes mass murder and genocide by the Soviet Union, fascist Italy and Japan, and Communist China.
We urge the Department of Education to substitute plain language for this unfortunate resort to euphemism.
- Primary Sources: The Draft Standards references a fair number of primary sources. At present, however, it is not easy for teachers to access the primary sources they reference.
We urge the Department of Education to publish a publicly accessible reader of suggested primary sources on its website to facilitate the use of the Standards by teachers.
The Department of Education can significantly improve its Standards if it adopts these proposals.
The Draft Standards: Suggestions for Accompanying Measures
Social Studies standards should work in tandem with broader support for education reform. We suggest that the Department of Education undertake two broader measures:
- Licensure Requirements: The Draft Standards provide an excellent outline for teacher preparation and professional development for K-12 social studies teachers. The Department of Education should update its licensure requirements to ensure that its teachers are equipped to teach curriculum that aligns with these Standards.
- Statutory Reform: The Department of Education should ask state policymakers to enact laws that provide statutory underpinnings to the reforms embodied in this Draft Standards, and which ensure proper social studies instruction in all South Dakota public K-12 schools.10
The Draft Standards: A Splendid First Draft
The South Dakota Department of Education definitely should adopt the Draft Standards of 8/15/22. We make recommendations for revision of the Draft Standards in a friendly spirit, to build upon the wonderful work done by the Social Studies Content Standards Commission. South Dakota will have excellent Social Studies standards if it adopts this Draft unchanged—but even better ones if the Department of Education incorporates the revisions we recommend.
President, National Association of Scholars
Executive Director, Civics Alliance