Thursday, August 27, 2015

South Dakota Dumps Early American History Requirements

This reminds of Alexis de Toqueville's remarks in Democracy in America:

Among democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class gradually approaches others and mingles with them, its members become undifferentiated and lose their class identity for each other. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king; democracy breaks that chain and severs every link of it. --Chapter Two, "Of Individualism in Democratic Countries."

Of course the students in South Dakota will never hear this quote since it was written before 1877.

Michael Amolin, teacher/curricular designer who defends the decision in the video (or at least I think that's what he is doing), comes across as desperately trying to justify these changes.  First, he seems to think that the study of history is only about dates, timelines and memorization.  Second, he has a very, very thin view of what it means to be a citizen.

Perhaps this is because Amolin teaches chemistry and physics.  He has an EdD and he wrote his dissertation at the University South Dakota on "laboratory-based professional development and reformed teaching practices in the science classroom." I don't know if Amolin is representative of the mindset of the members of the committee who decided to remove early American history from the curriculum, but if he is, the kids of South Dakota are definitely in trouble.

Do we want the past to help students become better citizens and make a contribution to our democratic society?  Of course we do.  In my Why Study History?" Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, I argued that history is essential for sustaining a civil society.  It is also essential for a thriving democracy, as I argued here.

There are a lot of ways in which the study of history can contribute to our democracy.  One of them is to see that every contemporary event is rooted in a larger context.  Another is to see that present events are contingent upon things that happened in the past.  And what about the long-term causes behind things that happen in the present?

Sadly, the students of South Dakota have had the very foundations of American citizenship ripped out from under them.

If this video is correct, South Dakota students will no longer learn about:

  • The American Revolution: As Americans, the children of South Dakota will learn nothing about the ideals and values on which their nation was built.  How does this make them good citizens?
  • The Constitution: As Americans, the children of South Dakota will learn nothing about how the United States government works or the rights afforded to all United States citizens.  How does this make them good citizens?
  • Women's Suffrage:  Goodbye Seneca Falls and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  South Dakota students will be left with a view of the past in which women were always able to vote. 
  • Slavery:  How will South Dakota students understand race-relations in the United States without learning about slavery as the roots of the Civil Rights movement and other black protest movements, including Black Lives Matter?
  • Early Native Americans:  I would think that any resident of South Dakota should know something about the Indians.  As it now stands, their understanding of native American history will begin with the United States attempts to drive the Dakota, Lakota, and Yankton Sioux from their lands and will end with Indian reservations and casinos.
  • The Rise of a Democratic Society
  • Westward Expansion:  Wouldn't educators in South Dakota want their students to know something about this?  Wouldn't this movement be an important part of South Dakota identity?
  • The Civil War
From my perspective this seems worse than attempts in Texas and elsewhere to change the curriculum to conform to conservative or Christian views of history.

Hat Tip:  Thanks to Jimmy Dick for bringing this story to my attention.