June 1, 2015
The Education That our Students Deserve
It has been over six years since the release of Maryland’s Social Studies Task Force (http://www.socialstudies.org/advocacy/) and yet there seems to be far too little real socialstudies content and skills being taught in our schools. This is particularly true in our
elementary schools. Dr. Nancy Grasmick, retired Maryland State Superintendent of Schools realized this was not just a State specific issue and looked to nationalorganizations for leadership in researching and responding to this concern. What amazes me is that so little attention is focused on the demise of social studies since the 2001 passage of No Child Left Behind. According to the Task Force, the lowest performing schools in Maryland are the most likely not to teach any social studies. The majority of elementary students receive only 30 minutes of social studies a week; some students receive “social studies” through an art or holiday project only.
Many hoped the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); the national state-led effort to develop standards in core content areas would have reinforced the importance of socialstudies instruction by including standards for literacy in history/social studies for grades 6 through high school. This could have been a good start in the right direction if theassessment reflected sound social studies practices and content. Alas, these new national assessments really only measure how students read text. Although they may be reading a primary source or a scientific experiment the questions can be answered by a proficientreader who may know nothing about the content or the context of history or science. WHOthought a cold read was a good idea anyway? It must have been the same person who thought that a student’s prior knowledge is not important as well.
Let’s reflect back to the elementary students… they are receiving less than an acceptableamount of social studies instruction. Elementary teachers have been teaching all thedisciplines, K-5 since the beginning of public education and could continue to do so
appropriately in an interdisciplinary fashion if they were given the support they need. Instead, they are being measured by unrealistic expectations and asked to dramatically change their instruction to align to the CCSS in an abbreviated time frame. When did social studies becomeunimportant? How did STEM (Thank you, Bill Gates) take the place of other importantsubjects in the social studies? The 19th century economy and government needed well-rounded citizens who followed rules and displayed civic virtue. I would argue that the 21st century needs well-rounded citizens who know social studies (civics, economics, history and geography) and who can also analyze, synthesize, and articulate new ideas and concepts.
Having travelled to over 80 countries in this global economy has led me to understand why a country’s history and politics is important. People all over the world study our ongoing experiment with democracy. America’s founding generation shaped the way people understood an individual’s relationship with government. Today many young Americans do not know enough history to appreciate the remarkable nature of our democracy. Perhaps this iswhy so many of our young people are disengaged and disheartened with the system. If thistrend in social studies education continues, this problem will only continue to deepen.
Even though I view the past decade as a dismal period for social studies I am hopefulthat we as social studies educators can make a difference now! College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): a Framework for Social Studies (www.socialstudies.org/c3) was created in a state-led effort and is being implemented nationally in a variety of ways. The C3 Framework represents the first opportunity to showcase what we embrace as social studies educators. This is our moment…our Sputnik moment! The C3 Framework has been highlighted in key noteaddresses (Thank you, Kathy Swan) and in numerous sessions throughout the Middle StatesCouncil for the Social Studies (MSCSS) conferences in 2014 and 2015. Please join us for the 113th conference on Friday, February 26th and Saturday, February 27th , at the Doubletree Hilton Conference Center in Annapolis, Maryland. The MSCSS Board of Directors promisesto showcase the C3 Framework at the next conference as well.
Dr. Marcie Taylor-Thoma, President Middle States Council for the Social Studies