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HB 1153: House Education Hears Bolin Tremble Before History Standards

Last updated on 2014.01.26

The House Education Committee took up House Bill 1153 yesterday. Prime sponsor Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) stepped forward to confirm my suspicion that the plan to forbid the Department of Education from participating in developing Common Core history standards bears the faint aroma of Tea bags. After opposing testimony from the Department of Education's Wade Pogany, House Education voted twice but failed to get actionable majorities. Committee chair Rep. Thomas Brunner thus deferred action for another meeting.

Picture of Representative Jim Bolin
Rep. Jim Bolin(R-16/Canton)

In his testimony, Rep. Bolin warned that the Common Core State Standards Initiative, started by the National Governors Association (read: Mike Rounds, South Dakotan) and the various state boards of education is actually a precursor to effort to homogenize schools across United States and an effort to break down local control. Bolin, a former history teacher, said that his field of expertise is the one area of study that is most subject to interpretation and debate, unlike cut and dried topics like math. History, said Bolin, is the one subject where "the culture and meaning of a nation is presented in a logical and organized form."

Then Bolin started walking the Teabagger's plank. History, he said is "the one place where the concept of American exceptionalism can and should be taught." He started looking for Nancy Pelosi behind the curtains: we want educators and individuals from San Francisco, Chicago, and New York making decisions or influencing the curriculum which will guide the instruction of our children in South Dakota as to the history of our nation and its meaning in the world? Wouldn't we rather have our educators here in our own state making these decision for our own students? [Rep. Jim Bolin, testimony, House Education Committee, 2011.02.02]

Of course, Bolin had no problem suggesting we let Texas influence our curriculum, saying we should join the Lone Star State in rejecting history standards. Texas must be part of the "heartland," which I suspect is a code word for "the Real America":

Do not follow educators from areas of the country with views that are antithetical to the values of the heartland to begin the process of controlling our curriculum, at least in the vital area of history [Bolin, 2011.02.02].

Bolin then urged the committee to reject the advice of "the representatives of the education establishment," some of whom happen to come from the heartland right here in South Dakota... Mr. Wade Pogany, director of the Office of Assessment and Technology Systems for the South Dakota Department of Education. As far as I know, Mr. Pogany is not from San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or any other evil non-"heartland" place. But Bolin should keep an eye on Pogany's clear anti-heartland values.

Actually, Pogany cautioned the committee that HB 1153 would set a "dangerous precedent" and actually take away local control. Pogany noted that the states started the Common Core effort in part to save money by combining forced on the complicate process of developing curriculum standards. He then proceeded in great debate coach fashion (in better days, Pogany coached the Aberdeen Golden Eagle debate team) to outline four reasons we all should oppose Bolin's bill:

  1. There are no history standards to warrant concern. The states aren't working on common history standards. As Pogany's mom always said, "Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you."
  2. We already have checks and balances in the process to allow the debate Bolin wants over history standards.
  3. It's bad policy to tie hands of state board of education. To tell the Board of Education they can't even participate in discussions about standards actually erodes local control. It prevents the board from holding hearings and seeking public input to empower teachers and citizens.
  4. It's bad policy to write statutes about a problem that doesn't exist. (Actually, Wade, I think you already covered this in point #1.)

Bolin returned to the mic for a somewhat bumbling, stammering rebuttal. He urged the committee to go to the Common Core Standards website, where they would see that Pogany is technically correct, but there are proposals being developed to begin this process. It's in the works, Bolin assured us, seeing the bogeymen of his imagination around every unexplored corner.

Bolin then warned that the constant references on the CCSSI website to fact that all these standards aren't coming from the federal government make him think that the standards folks are protesting too much. Only in the minds of the politically desperate or intellectually dishonest are statements that we aren't doing something proof that we are doing something.

Picture of Representative Mark Venner
Rep. Mark Venner (R-24/Pierre)

Rep. Bolin did conclude with one non-nutty point: he said he spent entire life teaching American history and the South Dakota standards are fine. Here, when Bolin stepped away from the right-wing karaoke, he actually made sense. Rep. Mark Venner (R-24/Pierre) followed this sensible line in the committee discussion, noting that he when taught math (yeah!), he taught from the heart. Standards piled on from above, said Rep. Venner, just make it harder to teach. To that, I say "Hear hear!"

But under that logic, why not drop all such standards and just let teachers teach? That clearly is not Rep. Bolin's true intent. He acknowledges that South Dakota has already accepted Common Core math and English standards, and he declines to reject them. He'd rather fuss about possible but currently non-existent standards than the existing standards that have already established the beachhead for San Franciscan and Chicagoan curriculum invaders to corrupt our youth. Bolin's blather about the uniquely subjective nature of history is as fallacious as his empty talk of American exceptionalism. Rep. Venner himself protested that math isn't so cut-and-dried. English is filled with discussion of language and literature, not to mention all the dangerous ideas in books like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath. If those vague but definitely evil forces on the East and West Coast can find a way to pollute our children's minds just by writing a few history standards, they can surely do so with standards in other fields as well.

Picture of Representative Larry Lucas
Rep. Larry Lucas (D-26A/Mission)

But really, that's just nutty talk. Another former teacher on the committee, Rep. Larry Lucas (D-26A/Mission) said he considers HB 1153 micromanagement of the Department of Education and said the Legislature should focus instead on the big picture of adequately funding the schools (hallelujah!).

Picture of Representative Roger Hunt
Rep. Roger Hunt(R-10/Brandon)

Of all people, Rep. Roger Hunt (R-10/Brandon) spoke against the bill. He acknowledged his own provincial proclivities, saying he's deeply concerned about East and West Coasters subverting South Dakota values. But even he couldn't brook the "overreaching" nature of a bill that tells the Department of Education it can't even participate in discussions about common history standards.

A "Do Pass" motion got seven yeas and six nays, but Reps. Elliott and Perry were out of the room, so that motion was one vote shy of a committee majority. A motion to kill HB 1153 failed, so the bill hangs in limbo until the committee takes another swing at it with everyone in the room (Elliott! Perry! Get back to work!).

If conservatives like Bolin oppose voluntary nationwide standards, they should get consistent and oppose all such standards in all areas. I agree wholeheartedly with Rep. Venner's statement that these standards don't do much to help smart, dedicated teachers improve their daily teaching. So let's focus the discussion of standards and every other education issue before the Legislature on helping teachers do their jobs, not on pointless pontificating about "heartland" values.


Update 2011.02.04 14:17 CST: But we've got to remember, we're all neighbors. My friend at the Displaced Plainsman suggests I was a little too hard on his friend Jim Bolin, an admonishment I do not take lightly. LK, JB, me, heck, even Wade and Sibby should all sit down for pizza and talk this out.


  1. Douglas Wiken 2011.02.03

    It appears it is a good thing that Bolin is a former history teacher.

    South Dakota Republicans have a family value that is more like feudal tribalism. They will bend over backward promoting irrelevant, ignorant legislation and lawsuits to fit in with the "family" wingnut loons of the right in Washington DC and hillbilly homelands of the south.

    Unlike years past when the mad aunt and the alcoholic uncle or grandmother were kept hidden, the GOP openly celebrates the polticial equivalent of such madness.

  2. Steve Sibson 2011.02.03

    Wade Pogeny misrepresented the facts. The standards do include History/Social Studies. The Trojan Horse is the English standards. In addtition, it is intellectually insulting (for those of us who know the truth)for Progeny to say that internationally benchmarked standards provide local control. Sadly the truth about the standards being based on international benchmarks was missing yesterday.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.02.03

    Douglas, you are very fun!

    Steve, I must disagree. As I noted earlier and as Mr. Pogany would likely concur, there are no history standards telling teachers what to say about American exceptionalism, specific historical periods, political movements or anything else of the sort.

    There are "Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects English Language Arts" which discuss not specific history content but the literacy skills (critical thinking, working with primary and secondary sources, etc.). English teachers should make sure kids have so they can study history properly. Heck, they even refer to building the "cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic" [emphasis mine].

    Did you see that, Sibby? They even recognize we're a republic, not a democracy. They're your people!

    But that's as political as those standards get. And while Rep. Bolin didn't address those standards specifically, he acknowledged the English standards and said he wasn't going after them. The social-science literacy standards are part of the English standards, so Bolin must not see any Trojan horse or secret San Franciscan plot in them, or he'd've waled on 'em, right? Or did Bolin just get hoodwinked by those education establishmentarians?

    But go ahead, Steve. Read the standards. Show me the line that offends truth, justice, and the American way. I want hard abuse of history, not just some airy malarkey about use of the Hegelian dialectic and connections to Marxist thought.

  4. Steve Sibson 2011.02.03

    "Show me the line that offends truth"

    The fact that the Dept of Ed said the standards had nothing to do with history is what is offensive to the truth. Thanks for bringing the truth...American history based on international benchmarks.

    And Cory is is a "Constitutional Republic", not a democratic one.

  5. Jim Hock 2011.02.03

    Shouldn't there be some national standard for all coursework? That way we know kids are being at least taught the basics of all subjects and teachers can go from there on what else needs to be taught. Also that leads to better college entry scores, less remedial classes at all levels.
    It would help solve the (severely small problem) of being taught the state capital of SD (pronounced peer not PEair).

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.02.03

    There's the funny thing, Jim: I'm actually with Sibby on generally opposing national curriculum standards. If you hire good teachers, they'll know what to teach just by dint of their own well-rounded education and their sense of citizenship. If you need an outline from Washington to tell you what to teach, you didn't pay attention in high school and college yourself.

    Alas, that's not the argument Bolin is making.

  7. Dana 2011.02.03

    Cory, you just confirmed why we need Common Core! "If you need an didn't pay attention in high and college". What if your teacher was Jim Bolin, who taught you his (and theTexas) version of history? Standards aren't, and shouldn't be about making it easier for teachers. They're about providing kids with a well-rounded education, so they don't grow up thinking everyone from the East or West coast is a bogeyman!

  8. kelly 2011.02.03

    good post

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.02.04

    Not unreasonable, Dana, but I wonder: how do standards make Jim Bolin a better teacher? Guidelines from some interstate agency posted on the wall seem a light counterweight to an ineffective or biased teacher at the board. If we want to improve education, can't we get more bang for the buck by ensuring we give teachers a well-rounded education and then hire only the best?

  10. Steve Sibson 2011.02.04

    National standards are not about providing a well-rounded education. I became well-rounded on my own by not accepting as gospel what I was told by some teacher or media report and actually researching issues.

    And Cory, if you are against National Standards, then I am truly puzzled by the content of this post entry. If you are saying Bolin is not going far enough, I agree. But at least he is giving us a starting point.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.02.04

    Um, Steve, doing your own research on issues is exactly what the Common Core literacy standards call for.

    I can agree with eliminating standards. But I can't stand with Bolin's effort to destroy national identity and unity. He's pushing the old malarkey that folks who live in big cities (i.e., the majority of Americans?) aren't "real Americans." We're all Americans, rural and urban. South Dakotans have no special claim to patriotism. I cannot endorse Bolin's effort until he knocks off the Teabaggery and until he gets consistent and says no to all national standards. (And even then, as Dana above points out, we can have a debate about the merits and impacts of national curriculum guidelines.)

  12. Steve Sibson 2011.02.04


    National Core Standards are about the elite telling us what to teach. It is NOT about doing your own work. Bolin is coming at this from the standpoint of a history teacher. Your personal attack is not valid.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.02.04

    It's not a personal attack; it's a philosophical attack. Bolin is preaching bad politics. San Franciscans and Chicagoans are just as American as we are. Bolin is also, as Rep. Hunt said, advocating an overreach of legislative authority over the executive.

  14. Steve Sibson 2011.02.04

    Anybody who agrees to shove international benchmarked standards onto our children are not American enough. And I agree, we have people in South dakota that are with the one-world governemnt agenda, and that includes many Republicans. When are we going to stop fighting the false fights and start working together? Stop with the Republican versus Democrat feud Cory.

  15. Douglas Wiken 2011.02.04

    Steve wants SD education to be run by the smallest loudest frogs in the smallest puddle so muddy that they never see sunlight.

    The federal standards are probably minimum standards. There is no reason why SD can't have its own better standards that rise above the minimum.

  16. snapper 2011.02.05

    I think BOlin is a fine man.

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