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National policy finds its way into SD education legislation | Community

The extent to which national political movements influence South Dakota’s legislative priorities was rarely more apparent than during a House Education Committee hearing in Pierre in early February 2022.

On the agenda was House Bill 1337, one of several educational measures introduced by Governor Kristi Noem to keep critical race theory and “intrinsically divisive concepts” out of classrooms. the state, in this case by protecting elementary and high school students from “political indoctrination” through racial history, social studies, and civics.

After remarks by Allen Cambon, one of Noem’s senior policy advisers, committee members heard from a distance Stanley Kurtz, a conservative commentator and senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy in Washington D.C. Kurtz was well placed to testify as much of the bill directly matched the language of “The Partisanship Out of Civics Act,” model legislation he drafted in early 2021 to help Republican-run statehouses fight against public schools becoming what he called “the toys of the left.”

Kurtz’s list of controversial ideas to ban included the notion that slavery and racism “are anything other than deviations from the authentic founding principles of the United States,” as well as any race-based concept that makes anyone feel bad. a “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other form of psychological distress because of their (race, ethnicity, or religion).”

Those representing the interests of South Dakota public schools at the legislative hearing had pressing questions that were never fully answered: why was a national political project imposed on a state that documented local concerns about the breed-based program? And why had Noem’s office consulted with a national arbiter of right-wing political strategy while neglecting to speak with school officials in his own state?

Kurtz declined an interview request for this story, and Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, did not respond to a request for details about policy discussions between Kurtz and the governor’s office.

For Diana Miller, a former president of the South Dakota Education Association who now lobbies for school districts, the lack of communication fits a trend during Noem’s tenure of making education decisions without engaging local stakeholders. .

“I worked with former governors Janklow, Rounds and Daugaard,” Miller said. “At the time, people from the governor’s office would call us and ask us questions. They asked for feedback and spoke to superintendents. It’s not happening now, and I don’t understand why.

HB 1337, South Dakota’s political indoctrination bill, mirrored language in legislation banning CRT and civic action in states including Texas, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Missouri . The Republican lawmaker who introduced the bill in Texas said he spoke with Kurtz to craft the measure, which will become law in that state on September 1.

South Dakota’s bill was killed in the Senate Education Committee by a 4-3 vote. Noem followed with an April 5 executive order that contained much of the same prohibitions against critical theory of race, emphasizing that students should learn “the true and honest history of America” ​​and banning divisive concepts in classroom instruction and state standards.

Critical Race Theory, usually taught at the university level, is an academic theory that suggests that race is a social construct and that systemic racism is still part of American law and policy. Civic action is an alternative form of civic education in which students explore issues in their community and explore advocacy strategies.

The fact that Noem was influenced by Kurtz on these matters was not surprising. The first-term governor worked to build a profile as a potential national nominee, courting conservative media as part of the plan. In Kurtz’s opinion, however, she didn’t always follow the walk. When the state Department of Education last year backed social studies standards that Kurtz viewed as left-wing, it lambasted Noem for losing out to “hard left activists” and challenged question his conservative credentials in the National Review, an influential publication with 25 million monthly page views.

“We desperately need alternative models for history and civics, and Noem is well positioned to create one,” Kurtz wrote. “To do that, however, she will have to go beyond showy gestures and govern like the bold conservative she claims to be.”

This essay was published on September 20, 2021. On the same day, Noem asked the Department of Education to delay changes to state social studies standards for up to a year to allow for greater public input. . She then changed the complexion of the standards committee to align itself ideologically with anti-CRT sentiment, enlisting retired professor Will Morrisey of Hillsdale College, a conservative liberal arts institution based in Michigan, to help select potential members.

Noem’s office also began preparing anti-indoctrination bills for the 2022 legislative session, using Kurtz’s model and inviting him to testify at hearings, where he warned of “the promotion of the idea that we must be judged above all” by racial or ethnic criteria. identify.

To education officials such as Jim Holbeck, a former Harrisburg School District superintendent who works for Associated School Boards in South Dakota, it looked like a coordinated attempt by partisan outsiders to control the curriculum of the state rather than relying on local school boards, administrators and teachers.

“It’s the playbook now – you change what happens in the states and you can change the country,” Holbeck said. “So what do we do? Do we change the curriculum every time there’s a new election? Do we write a Republican curriculum and teach that and four years later write a Democratic curriculum? I want say, seriously. We’re going to mess up the kids.

“HOW DO YOU MEASURE DISCOMFORT? »

Holbeck, the former superintendent of Harrisburg, was teaching a workshop for aspiring administrators last month when he decided to try something new, based on discussions that had taken place in the state legislature.

“I told them that their mission was to answer the question: ‘What is critical race theory?’ “recalls Holbeck. “The first person said, ‘I don’t know.’ The next one said, ‘I’m not sure.’ I met eight people, and none of them had the definition. I said, ‘Do you see the problem here? We hear so much about this CRT and the fact that we’re not supposed to teach it, and we don’t even know what it is.

Much of the language of Kurtz and others to characterize divisive class concepts stems from a national doctrine touting the academic freedom of “woke” ideology. Supporters call it a throwback to the social justice movement stemming from the 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and initiatives such as the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which its editors said sought to “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the national narrative of the United States.

Part of the problem, Holbeck said, comes from viewing education through the prism of a white Christian frame of reference. In communities with large Indigenous populations and in school districts such as Sioux Falls, where more than a quarter of students are black or Hispanic, the ban on race-based history curricula that makes some students uneasy ease becomes a matter of perspective.

Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, posed the classroom hypothesis of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel about a white lawyer who depicts a black man wrongfully accused of rape in a small town. in 1930s Alabama, a staple of high school literature classes across the country.

“If I’m the teacher and I come to you as an administrator, can I teach this book? Pogany asked during a committee hearing. “It deals with racism, discrimination, bullying. What if students are not comfortable with this and it causes them discomfort or anxiety? How do we measure discomfort? We don’t know our parameters. In the final analysis, the laws should give us direction, the laws should be clear, and they should be put in place to address a problem that actually exists in South Dakota.

This article was produced by South Dakota News Watch, a nonprofit online news organization about sdnewswatch.org.