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Triumphs and Mistakes: Learning from Our History

May 21, 2021

The United States of America has a truly unique and wonderful history. Our nation was the first to be founded on an ideal: that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”


In pursuit of this ideal, our nation has seen many triumphs. Along the way, we’ve also made some terrible mistakes. Our triumphs have occurred when we lived up to this ideal. Our mistakes have come when we fell short.


As our children and grandchildren grow and learn, they should be taught the full picture of our nation’s history – our fundamental values, our greatest achievements, and the long struggles to overcome injustice as well. Our young people must understand the mistakes as well as the triumphs, of course. But those mistakes must be put in proper context, and right now I am concerned that this is not the case nationally.


Across the nation, we’ve seen a different, misinformed version of American history take root. The so-called 1619 Project (a creation of the New York Times) is being promoted by the Biden Administration as a recommended resource for their K-12 American History and Civics Education programs. The 1619 Project claims that America was founded on racism and slavery, not on an ideal of equality. It seeks to incorrectly re-frame the nation as a story of “us versus them” rather than “We the People.” Moreover, the 1619 Project relies upon the concept of Critical Race Theory to further divide students based on the color of their skin.


This is inappropriate and un-American. It has no place in South Dakota, and it certainly has no place in South Dakota classrooms. According to many historians, this 1619 Project’s version of American history is full of errors and misstatements that should be avoided, not embraced. That is why this week, South Dakota’s Department of Education Secretary Tiffany Sanderson and State Historian Dr. Ben Jones pushed back on the Biden Administration’s support for the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory in our schools.


Similarly, a few weeks ago I signed the “1776 Pledge to Save Our Schools” as a commitment that I will work to make patriotic education a priority in South Dakota classrooms. I will be working with the South Dakota Board of Regents to ensure honest, patriotic education in our institutions of higher education. And my Department of Education will not apply for any federal civics or history grants that are tied to Critical Race Theory or the 1619 Project.


This past legislative session, I worked with the legislature to pass funding for robust civics education that helps our students to learn America’s history and everything that makes our country special. As part of that education, they’ll learn about the history of our state. They’ll learn the history of our tribes as well. And they will learn about America’s mistakes – the times that we fell short of our ideal of equality – so that we can learn from those mistakes. But they’ll learn of our triumphs as well. They’ll learn about the leaders who made those triumphs possible. As a result, I’m hopeful that our students will better be able to emulate those triumphs into the future.


Our nation’s history shouldn’t be political. “All men are created equal” shouldn’t be controversial. I look forward to continuing to promote a patriotic education throughout South Dakota that cultivates in our next generation a profound love for our country.