I read this article recently from the Washington Post about the state of Social Studies education in America. It just confirms what many of us know: our discipline is in danger.
Take Oregon, where I taught for the last seven years. In Oregon there is no mandatory state test for Social Studies. This may sound weird, but I hate that there is no mandatory state test for Social Studies.
I’m not arguing for or against mandatory testing. I am arguing that not testing Social Studies while doing so for math, reading, writing and science reflects a value that Social Studies is a second tier subject. In recent years course offerings have been cut, and I’ve heard from countless Social Studies teachers that their class has become “English-lite” as districts have scrambled to find ways to get higher test scores.
Neglecting Social Studies is short sighted, and harmful to our students and nation. With no disrespect to other content areas, I firmly believe that Social Studies is the single most important class students will ever take.
Social Studies puts all the other knowledge and skills students develop into context. Science and math are vital and necessary, but a brilliant scientist with no concept of his role in our civil society is often the villain of many movies.
Social Studies teaches students not just how to participate in our American Republic, but why we developed the system we have and what was sacrificed by so many to create it.
Social studies develops critical thinking skills and teaching students to search for bias and propaganda. We also provide chilling reminders from history of what can happen if too much power is concentrated because too few were willing to stand up and question authority.
Social Studies provides students with a plethora of viewpoints and an understanding of different cultures, in an increasingly interconnected world. It explains how our decision on what we drive, wear and eat ripple around the world for better or worse.
We teach our students how a mortgage works, why credit card debt is bad, and introduce them to the stock market. Creating a budget and a retirement plan should be on every state test, but they’re not.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, we teach our students about the connections we all have; to the past, to the planet, and to other people no how far away. And there is nothing more important than that.
So what can we do to change the way Social Studies is prioritized by our states and districts? A lot.
1.) Make Your Class Relevant. It already is. What you are teaching has an enormous impact on the future of our students, country, and world. Social Studies is one of those classes where the connections between what we teach and how it will apply to our student’s lives is very clear.
Still, help them draw those connections. Explain their role as citizens in their community, state and nation. Explain their role as citizens of this world. Explain why all you are teaching matters (and it does!)
If you communicate the value of Social Studies your students and parents, they’ll be vocal supporters.
2.) Engage Civically. You are a Social Studies teacher after all. And no one is better positioned or prepare to defend the importance of Social Studies than you. Visit your school board. Write your local legislators. Can they really argue, as elected government officials, that a civics education doesn’t matter?
As you already know, your voice does matter. By saying nothing we give more power to the other voices. We need more people speaking up on this.
3.) Tell your friends. Tell everyone. Have them write a letter. Heck, start a letter writing campaign yourself.