A group of South Dakota lawmakers Monday pushed ahead with an initiative offering an optional social studies curriculum for K-12 and college students rooted in the “American state of emergency” and America’s founding ideals
Programs with similar educational models have been explored in other states, such as a Michigan-based program from the conservative Hillsdale College that has received support from state legislators in South Dakota, Tennessee and Florida. But Black Hills State University’s Center for American Exceptionalism, South Dakota’s largest teacher preparation institute, would present a federally funded institute.
The bill passed the House Education Committee, which recommended that it be included in the state budget process. If passed, the law would be the first of its kind and would involve the center developing public university courses that compare the US to socialist and communist nations and a K-12 curriculum for social and civic education from the Center for Civic Education monitors, “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitutional Program”.
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Lead sponsor, Republican Rep. Scott Odenbach, stressed that the $150,000 bill aims to balance critical thinking with love for America
He said that when students graduate from institutions, “they should love America.”
Black Hills State University political science professor Nicholas Drummond praised the center’s proposed goal of creating a unified history by creating hope for the future based on founding ideals. He argued the country went two ways; one of excessive individualism and another of martial identity politics.
“I’ve spent far too much time studying the decline of this country,” Drummond said. “(It) takes us away from the notion of a national interest in the common good.”
Odenbach cited Republican Gov. Kristi Noem’s recent enthusiasm for social studies that encompass the nation’s founding ideals. He also argued that it would help school districts avoid educational material companies, which could charge the state $400,000 to implement even one area of content.
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Jonathan Zimmerman, an educational historian at the University of Pennsylvania, said “American exceptionalism” has long been a “catch-all” of the political right, but he is not aware of any other place where such an educational goal is enshrined in law. He added that liberals have also embraced ideals such as equality and human rights, which are detailed in the nation’s founding documents.
State standards for social studies have been under review for over a year, and education groups have criticized Noem’s efforts to instill “patriotic” educational goals in them. State education circles also pointed out the limits of Odenbach’s plan on Monday, such as the lack of long-term financing and the lack of contact with individual schools.
Diana Miller, who campaigns for the state’s 25 largest schools, said the proposed center would disrupt a delicate chain of command. She questioned why this bill would add another government agency and board to local school districts.
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“K-to-12 education isn’t broken,” Miller said.