As a member of the executive board of the Washington State Council for the Social Studies, I have seen the social studies die in the elementary level and go on permanent life support in the middle schools. The cause of the death of social studies is nothing more than the lack of testing in the elementary and middle school levels. While I am not a supporter of testing as justification, in our climate of accountability and high stakes testing, I understand the unspoken reality: if it is not on a test, even if it is encouraged, it is not taught. Up until recently the numbers of teachers who have made it to our annual K-8 Conference has dwindled and remained low as we see less and less time for the lower grades to incorporate social studies into an already tight school timetable.
Yet as I have often found, it is always the darkest before the dawn. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and its move to using more non-fiction texts, social studies has found a way back to life. Common Core is about building knowledge through rich nonfiction content reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text and regular practice with complex text a. As a social studies teacher, this is what I ask my students to do every day. As teachers step forward and decry the increased focus on complex non-fiction texts, I step forward and say this is what we do in social studies and we can help you. As a leader in the social studies community, we have seen our attendance grow at our events because we have the tools and experience to guide all teachers forward in taking on the demands of Common Core. To us it is not intimidating because effective social studies teachers have been doing it for years.
The lack of social studies at the lower levels troubles me for many reasons. As an AP American Government teacher, it is challenging to prepare students for a college level exam starting with an almost blank slate. As a believer in and practitioner of activism, community service, and civic engagement, I am dismayed at the lack of training, guidance, and exposure students have to how society works and how they can change it. As an AVID teacher, I am frustrated with the fact that many of my students do not get taught social studies in a way that will ignite their passions and inspire them for higher education.
At an AVID training I went to a few years ago, I was struck by a statement that one of my facilitators made as he explained the challenge we faced in preparing students for college writing when the English department owned reading and writing. He said that while they were doing a fine job, the problem is that most of our students will not be English majors in college. They will need to be able to read in write in disciplines that they are largely not being taught in and social studies, math, and science teachers need to take back control of discipline specific reading and writing.
As a social studies teacher, it was then and there that I recognized that I needed to teach discipline specific reading and writing. I needed students to read complex primary and secondary sources so that they could survive in college when all readings did not come from novels and all writing was not creative. Yet as I realized this, I saw that the system was not supporting this idea, and most students were learning to read and write, but not in the social studies, and almost completely disconnected from what they would need to do in the future.
While I understand that the Common Core standards have their detractors and that people have picked apart its standards and tried to show its inconsistencies, it is what will save a well-rounded education. While novels and creative writing are important and deserve to be a valued part of any well-rounded education, many students will not be reading them in college, or writing creatively in their job, or using them to support their work as active members of the community. What the Common Core does is open up the classroom to better reflect the world beyond its walls. As a teacher of a long neglected subject, I am excited that we are being brought back in the classroom.
Latest posts by John Hines (see all)
- It’s Not You, It’s Me – Social Studies and the CCSS - March 12, 2015
- The Social Studies Are Dead?!?…Long Live the Social Studies! - February 11, 2015