South Dakota’s Education of Our Children: Stand up and Speak out

Karen Proctor

September 19 was South Dakotans’ first opportunity to stand up for substance and excellence in  social studies in South Dakota’s public K–12 schools. This was the first of three such opportunities between now and March 2023, when the public comment period comes to an end.

Wanting to take a stand for our children, I drove the two hours and twenty minutes to Aberdeen. Most who spoke had written statements. I did not but knew what I wanted to say. I strongly support the proposed standard for teaching social studies because it is a vast improvement over what we have. South Dakotan children need a challenge, and they need to be inspired to develop a habit of reflection.

I offered two examples representative of my experience in our schools. When I go in to the classroom now as a substitute teacher (grades 1 through 4), seldom is there a map. To the question ‘What country do you live in?’ seldom is the right answer given. Most often the children cannot connect the concept of ‘country’ with the ‘United States’. This is unacceptable. Additionally, I put a quote on the board to begin a conversation with the students. Once we have a little lesson in punctuation, history, and math (they love to learn how many years the person quoted lived), I ask if someone would like to read the quote. Recently, in a first grade class, one person put up her hand and read the quote as an intelligent adult would: “Truth is such a rare thing it is delightful to tell it.” Emily Dickinson. Immediately, more than half the class applauded. Their little faces were alight with delight for their classmate and for themselves—if she can do it I can too! We need a lot more young faces lit up for learning. Teach up to inspire. This proposal would do exactly that.

Currently we teach a smattering of topics, a piece of information here and a piece of a story there. We teach in pieces and expect the children to piece things together on their own. In contrast, the 2022 proposed social studies standard offers the whole picture, thoroughly thought out, methodically presented, in chronological order, five parts American history and four parts world history. This provides opportunity for analysis and offers students the opportunity to think for themselves. This will spark questions—for instance, why did Washington, Jefferson, and Madison make an in depth study of the Ancient Greek government and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire? Because they sought to learn from the best government mankind had to offer and to improve upon it for a government by consent of the governed. Madison offers us great wisdom with his “A habit of reflection is essential for a free people.” This proposal offers our children the opportunity to begin a habit of reflection.

Our children do not know who they are without a foundation in who and what has gone before them. They do not know who they are as Americans without knowledge of America’s history. This proposal for social studies in our schools would teach mankind’s experience through its  great characters and events. It offers our students substantial lessons about living a good life and about what it means to be an American.

If we do not know who we are, we leave ourselves open to be controlled by others. We must know America if we wish to keep her.

South Dakotans have three more chances to stand up and speak out for the education of our children: November 21 in Sioux Falls and in the new year in Rapid City and Pierre.

Karen Proctor is a writer who dialogues with clients and substitute teaches in South Dakota schools. She is the author of two books, The Other World and Tudor Court.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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