Social studies are stepchild of standards movement

States are not required to produce evidence that their schools meet academic standards in teaching social studies (“ ‘We are committing educational malpractice’: Why slavery is mistaught – and worse – in American schools.” The New York Times, Aug. 19):  It’s not surprising, therefore, that controversial subject like slavery are shortchanging students.

But it’s important to remember that even if such standards were established, there is no guarantee matters would change because history textbooks are assembled by committees. As a result, special interest groups attempt to get their agendas included at the price of accuracy.

It’s not just that history textbooks for the most part whitewash American history.  The opposite is also true.  For example, “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn, has been rightly accused of turning our history into a comic-book melodrama in which people are constantly abused by their “rulers.”

How can impressionable young people be expected to know the truth under present circumstances?  It takes brave teachers to ignore curricular guidelines because they can be fired for deviating.  In the final analysis, the best hope is for social studies to be treated with the same importance as math and reading.

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2 Replies to “Social studies are stepchild of standards movement”

  1. Two thoughts —

    First, it seems that, in most school systems that use high-stakes testing, the students are tested in math and English, rarely in social studies. This necessarily pressures the school administrators/teachers to devote too much instructional time to math/English while reducing the instructional time devoted to other subjects, including social studies.

    Second, I agree that there are problems ensuring that social studies curriculum presents an accurate and balanced perspective. However, the accurate/balanced problems are, in my opinion, less important than the more fundamental problem of social studies curriculum emphasizing relatively unimportant subjects while largely ignoring much more important subjects.

    My understanding re social studies curricula is perhaps outdated — based on my secondary school years in the 1960s and, to a lesser extent, my kids’ secondary school years in the 1990s. But, my recollection is that social studies meant learning a lot of facts about history, some details about the three branches of govt and some details about current demographics/geography.

    The social studies curriculum pretty much ignored the subjects that students must understand if they are to be responsible citizens/voters — i.e., economics, tax policy, labor policy, health insurance policy, today’s foreign policy, social issues (guns, God, gays, abortion), immigration policy, differences in the political parties, federal vs. state vs. local govt authority, why people vote the way they do, mass media’s influence in society and particularly in elections. In other words, it is possible/probable that a student could get straight As in his/her high school social studies courses and be unable to intelligently evaluate what the Dem candidates said in recent presidential debates.


  2. Labor Lawyer: What bothers me is that social studies classes are becoming venues for indoctrination. For example, New York City is stressing victimization and white privilege. There is not a balanced curriculum that I know of under the present trend.


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