Friday, November 18, 2022

Support for proposed social studies standards

Public hearings on proposed social studies content standards are underway. Learn more about the social studies standards revision process on the Department of Education website.

Here is a collection of op-eds in support of the proposed standards:

From Fred Osborn, Director of the Office of Indian Education in the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations. Fred was a member of the Social Studies Standards Revision Commission.

One purpose of the South Dakota Office of Indian Education is to support initiatives in order that South Dakota’s students and public school instructional staff become aware of, and gain an appreciation of, South Dakota’s unique American Indian culture. As Director of the Office of Indian Education and member of both the most recent Social Studies Standards Revision Commission and the previous review team, I can say unequivocally that the current standards provide the most comprehensive framework to date for South Dakota’s students to learn about American Indian history and culture.

The proposed set of standards incorporate more than 70 references to Indigenous/Native perspective. They provide students with opportunities to review a full comprehensive history, from pre-contact Indigenous peoples of America to the revered nine tribes (Oceti Sakowin) in South Dakota today.

These standards allow children, Native and non-Native, to learn about the great leaders of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, such as Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and Spotted Tail to name a few. They also allow children to learn about and understand the devastating effects of mandatory schooling of Native children at boarding schools, how treaties were made, broken, and sometimes upheld. And the standards are not without highlighting the successes of the nine tribes of South Dakota, making sure to spiral throughout K-12 the identification, sovereignty, and identity of the nine tribes in South Dakota and their historical impact on both the state and the United States of America.

In 2003 over 1,000 people attended the first Gathering and Healing of Nations in Pierre. This event was aimed at promoting reconciliation between Natives and non-Natives. One of the most profound developments from this meeting was ultimately the development of the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings whereby all South Dakota’s students, both Native and non-Native, could learn core concepts essential to understanding Oceti Sakowin history and culture. Developing mutual understanding and respectful appreciation of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota history and culture narrows the divide that so often keeps us from meaningful engagement.

Great care was taken to mirror language and historically important events directly from the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings in the development of the proposed Social Studies Standards. Interweaving the essential elements and historical events from the Oceti Sakowin Essential Standards into History, Civics, Economics, and Geography further advances the vision from that initial meeting of the Gathering and Healing of Nations.

The proposed Social Studies Standards present an opportunity for an entire generation to learn and appreciate the diverse cultures of the nine tribes in South Dakota – an opportunity for an entire generation to find common respect of each other’s beliefs – an opportunity for an entire generation to learn South Dakota’s history whether it be good or bad. Such an opportunity should not be missed.

Social studies standards are meaningful, challenging, empowering

As an experienced classroom educator, I am excited about the potential of the proposed social studies standards. They provide a framework for students to gain critical knowledge, vocabulary, and understanding in key areas of history, government, geography, and economics.

A strong foundation in social studies is necessary to prepare productive citizens for the future. These standards are both meaningful and challenging and are grounded in democratic principles like civic participation, equality, and individual freedoms. It is important to note the proposed standards are guidelines for addressing what students should know by the end of each school year. These standards do not dictate the curriculum or how a teacher in each district will teach them.

When children are challenged with rigorous academic tasks, the results are greater student achievement. These standards allow South Dakota educators the freedom and flexibility to plan their instruction to the rigor level of each standard. By identifying purposeful pedagogy and critical content, the proposed standards build sound foundational skills for children at an early age that will move with them through their K-12 experience and on to college.

These skills, beginning with our youngest learners, will enable students to participate effectively in an increasingly diverse world. I believe one spectacular aspect of the social studies curriculum is that it can be incorporated into many different subject areas. For example, social studies can easily be integrated into language arts. In my classroom, when choosing a book for reading aloud to students, I often think of social studies or when learning history, my students can be practicing their writing or technology skills. Cross-curricular teaching not only saves time in an already busy teaching day but reveals to the students the interconnectedness of learning.

These standards were also written with parents in mind. There is a chronological ordering of the standards, which allows students and their parents the ability to see how and when events unfolded in history. The proposed standards spiral between grade levels building on prior knowledge. This fosters a continuum of learning that makes sense and is easily understood.

Another important element of the standards is they allow ample opportunities to include, like never before, South Dakota’s rich Native American history. The Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings are referenced throughout the standards. South Dakota students will now learn about the great Chiefs of their state like Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, Standing Bear, Crazy Horse, and Spotted Tail and their important contributions. The issue of Native American boarding schools which were, in many cases, a systematic attempt to erase Native American culture, is brought to light. Nothing is sugar coated.

Social studies matters and the democratic traditions of our country deserve a place in today’s classrooms. The proposed standards may seem at first glance to be overly rigorous and time consuming, but complex social studies standards empower students to succeed in school and later in their careers and life. It is something I believe our students deserve. That is why I am excited to support the proposed standards.

--Janet Finzen is a long-time educator who lives in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. She was a member of the Social Studies Standards Revision Commission.

South Dakota Education Standards for South Dakota Kids

There has been a great deal of public discussion about the proposed social studies content standards that will receive their first public hearing before the South Dakota Board of Education Standards on Sept. 19.

From local, state, and even national press coverage, to discussions in Main Street cafes, comments on social media platforms, and the public comments submitted specific to the standards, it’s clear a robust public discussion has begun on a process that typically draws little interest outside of the education community.

I’d like to take a moment to pull the conversation back to the big picture and offer a few thoughts, not about any particular verbiage included in the standards, or how many times certain words are mentioned, but to ask us to consider what we want our future to be.

The South Dakota Department of Education aspires for all students to graduate from the K-12 system ready for college, careers, and life. This is not something we take lightly. It’s on our website, we discuss it at staff meetings, we share it with teachers and administrators, and we infuse this approach into everything we do.

This means that while we certainly want all students to graduate high school, even more than that, we want them to graduate prepared to succeed in their adult lives. We want them to contribute as responsible citizens, voters, board members, and engaged volunteers who recognize how they can impact the world around them.

As South Dakotans, we want strong standards to guide our educators as they help our kids learn. Good standards frame out our expectations for what our young people learn and the skills they develop. They also serve as the foundation from which educators develop lesson plans and classroom experiences. With quality standards in hand, great teachers and instructional leaders translate these expectations for students into impactful classroom learning.

Well-prepared individuals often make the best servant-leaders. The goal of these standards is sound preparation, from which our students can effectively develop into the next generation of city council members, Little League coaches, county commissioners, church leaders, and legislators. These standards are the basis from which they can learn to critically analyze information, practice the art of debate, and see their opportunity to lead, equipped with the lessons of those who came before us.

Kids are capable of a great deal, often more than we think. Let’s use this opportunity to ensure our expectations challenge South Dakota students to learn and grow and become our next generation of South Dakota leaders.

--South Dakota Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson

Let’s Meet the Challenge

It’s no surprise to any of us that our civic education needs reforms. From Jay Leno’s joking to our national civics test scores, we’ve known for years our nation faces a grave challenge. Many, including me, have previously stated that our nation’s civic challenges are rooted in our historical ignorance. Having taught at the Air Force Academy and at Dakota State, I have experienced bright students in my class who were unable to do college level work as they did not have command of basic American history. So, in 2015, I organized several colleagues to sign a letter to the State Board of Education to say that more work was needed on those standards. Since then, I’ve served in various roles and kept working on this issue. I’ve researched and learned a great deal about what the root causes are. One of the causes is the belief that learning history doesn’t need to be equipped with historical evidence, but in a skills-based model, students should think critically about history because the students can always google the facts. This is akin to asking students to do math without knowing their numbers and results in students’ frustration and all of us falling further away from the solutions.

Fast forward to today, I was glad to serve on the SD Social Studies Standards Commission and believe these standards are a much-needed improvement and part of the solution. They are because the proposed social studies standards, just as math and English standards do, focus on key content early in a child’s education and re-introduces them with greater detail and complexity as the student gets older. Just as we design math instruction so first graders can count in order to do arithmetic, and 4th graders can do arithmetic in order to do algebra as 9th graders, we need to introduce, in a simple and clear way, the things like the Roman Republic in the early years so high school students can understand why John Adams sought to design a better republic in order to avoid Rome’s calamity. Despite this approach in math and English, many are saying Rome is too difficult for youngsters to understand and there’s too much “rote memorization.”

But the educational research on this is clear, as the well-known educational researcher E. D. Hirsch wrote, “. . .the idea that there are ages for which particular topics are appropriate has no scientific support." With this in mind, the Commission’s proposed standards introduce the invention of democracy by the Greeks, the fall of the Roman Republic, and other key events that impacted the thinking behind the Declaration of Independence and the formulation of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Students then follow the American story along and learn how the American people have often failed and sometimes achieved to meet these high ideals. Students will also gain increased appreciation for how rare, or as one might say, exceptional, our nation is due to the high expectations set by the framers despite their, and our, persistent human failings. With these proposed standards we’re taking the best opportunity we’ve had in a long time to help students do better and meet the civic challenge facing us.

--Ben Jones is the Director of the State Historical Society and former South Dakota Secretary of Education