Testimony on South Dakota's Revised Social Studies Standards

David Randall

Editor's Note: On February 10, 2023, National Association of Scholars Director of Research David Randall testified to South Dakota lawmakers. His testomony note the great strides South Dakota has made to improve its standards and noted opportunties for further changes. Read the full testimony below.

The National Association of Scholars and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate, unpoliticized education. We enthusiastically commend these excellent Draft Standards, which are among the best in the nation.

The Draft Standards provide a coherent, rigorous, content-based, and patriotic guide to social studies instruction.

It 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.

It provides factual content, rather than imposing “skills” instruction that is frequently counter-productive and always reduces the time available to learn factual knowledge.

Its 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.

It 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.

Its emphasis on spiraled instruction—concepts repeated at greater levels of detail in succeeding years—and on memorization provides an effective framework for instruction.

It provides joint instruction in patriotism and liberty—and should be wonderfully effective in producing South Dakota citizens who think freely and love their country.

It thoughtfully integrates instruction at each grade level into a coherent whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts.

It keys its level of rigor to a challenging but achievable level for students at each grade level.

At the same time, the Draft Standards can be improved—albeit from a high level of achievement.

We urge the South Dakota Department of Education to incorporate more rigorous writing expectations at the different grade levels.

We urge the Department to re-commit itself formally to providing standards for Western Civilization, along with a discrete course in World History, as its own topic of social studies instruction throughout the K-12 curriculum.

We urge the Department to augment the Draft Standards with sustained material on the common culture of the American nation and the history of Western culture.

We urge the Department 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.

We urge the Department to publish a publicly accessible reader of suggested primary sources on its website to facilitate the use of the Standards by teachers.

We strongly urge the Department to adopt the Draft Standards. We make recommendations for revision of the Draft Standards in a friendly spirit, because South Dakota will still have excellent Social Studies standards if it adopts this Draft unchanged.

Photo: Aerial View of Sioux Falls, South Dakota at Sunset by Jacob // Adobe Stock License.

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