Earlier this year, Gov. Kristi Noem signed a pledge to bar “action civics” (mandatory political protests for course credit) and critical race theory (attacks on “whiteness,” “Eurocentrism,” etc.) from South Dakota schools. For doing so, she drew praise from conservatives, including Stanley Kurtz, a leader in the fight against action civics.
Stanley warned, however, that Noem had her work cut out for her in order to make good on the pledge. “Even in a deep-dyed red state such as South Dakota, the threats that Noem has just pledged to battle have made shocking progress,” he stated. We discussed Noem’s pledge and Stanley’s warning here.
Has Noem done the hard work required to fulfill her pledge? Stanley finds that she has not. He writes:
Sad to say, Noem did not follow through. Instead, she allowed the existing standards revision process to continue on a track that placed it in direct opposition to the spirit and substance of her pledge.
Just a couple of weeks after Noem’s pledge, Melinda Johnson, the social-studies specialist at the South Dakota Department of Education, signed a contract with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for the services of a consultant who would facilitate revisions to the state’s social-studies standards. Beth Ratway, the consultant/facilitator/team leader provided by AIR, is a leading advocate of action civics and a proponent of teaching for “social justice” (in practice, leftist politics).
Once Ratway was hired to guide South Dakota’s social-studies revisions, the behind-the-scenes reality of Noem’s education policy could not have been more different from its public face.
How bad is Ratway? This bad:
Ratway co-chaired the 2020 Advancing Social Justice Conference for NCSS and received a special commendation from the group for her efforts. Nikole Hannah-Jones, of the 1619 Project, was a featured speaker at Ratway’s conference, and plenty of the conference panels pushed for action civics and CRT.
Ratway is also affiliated with the Educating for American Democracy (EAD) initiative, a left-dominated coalition dedicated to pushing action civics on America’s schools. EAD has been roundly criticized by conservatives like Mark Bauerlein, Jonathan Butcher, John Fonte, Joy Pullmann, Peter Wood, Scott Yenor (and me). So, the key facilitator of South Dakota’s social-studies standards revision process is an advocate of everything Noem has pledged to oppose.
It gets even worse:
[I]n an extraordinary video,* [Ratway] provides teachers with strategies for bringing “social justice” training into their classrooms, even when parents object. Ratway’s seminar in misdirection validates long-standing conservative concerns that bland-sounding language built into state education standards is cleverly designed to enable leftist political indoctrination.
Grassroots conservatives get called conspiracy theorists for raising these concerns, but Ratway’s video is essentially a “how to” lesson for leftist educators looking to defuse legitimate parental concerns about indoctrination. The trick Ratway gives them is to reference ambiguous phrases from state standards as a defense.
Drawing on language from the United Nations, Ratway defines “social justice” as “fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.” Invoking authors like the Marxist educator Paulo Freire (an ed-school favorite), she adds material on “questioning institutional knowledge” so as not to “reproduce power and privilege.”
Ratway tells the teachers watching her seminar to push these ideas indirectly, by framing them as questions like, “What would a historian ask?” She also suggests pushing social justice under the guise of exploring “multiple perspectives.” Yet Ratway’s goal is very evidently not a balanced and open exploration of “multiple perspectives.” On the contrary, she aims to promote a broadly leftist political vision under the decidedly misleading guise of open-mindedness.
This is what Noem, through her inattention, may have unleashed on the students of South Dakota.
I say “may have” because, according to Stanley, the governor is belatedly trying to avoid this result. I hope she succeeds, but Noem should never have allowed things to deteriorate to where they are now.
The bottom line, says Stanley, is this:
Unless Noem throws out the current, hopelessly compromised draft social-studies standards, replaces the state education bureaucrats responsible for this fiasco, and puts thoughtful conservatives in charge of the standards revision process, South Dakota’s schools are poised to become playthings of the Left.
And the same outcome is likely to occur in other Red States unless conservative officials and legislators understand the resistance they face in putting education back on the right track and are willing to do the hard work necessary to overcome that resistance.
*The video cannot be viewed at the link provided. I’m told it has been scrubbed.