South Dakota social studies standards are meaningful, challenging, empowering

November 11, 2022 4:23 pm
The South Dakota State Capital, pictured on Nov. 2, 2022.

The South Dakota State Capital, pictured on Nov. 2, 2022. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

As an experienced classroom educator, I am excited about the potential of South Dakota’s 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.

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Janet Finzen
Janet Finzen

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.