The recent conflict over the nature of social studies curriculum is tired, old and very, very stale. Yes, we know that the liberals can't stand the fact that America has actually done a whole lot of wonderful things in including the spread of free market economics around the world which has clearly raised prosperity in such remote corners that it's likely world hunger will be eliminated within 50 years. Or that our military has ensured this freedom across the globe and saved countless lives from a whole host of threats, both human and natural. And we know that conservatives are literally foaming at the mouth even at the mere hint of America being at fault for anything in its 200+ year history. Whenever anything bad happened (slavery, coup in Iran, Vietnam, Iraq II), it was no one's fault. Shitty things just happen sometimes and if you blame America, well, you're a fucking commie!
What both sides in this debate completely fail to realize is that they are having the wrong argument and are wasting an enormous amount of time. The discussion shouldn't be about content. It should be about rigor. The same level of attention that is applied to math and reading should be applied to social studies. That includes high stakes testing with severe repercussions for those districts who fail to achieve the basic standards set out by the state in history and civics.
I'd wager that none of these people has been in a classroom in the last decade because the simple fact is that young people don't give a shit about civics or history. Without the priority placed on it by the state, why the fuck should they care? Our education department, as well as others across the nation, is hammering it into them that math and reading are more important than any other subject. Certainly, they are important but when many of the kids I get into class don't know who the vice president is or how a bill is passed or that there are even three branches of government, that should be a strong indicator for change.
The first thing that needs to happen is that the conclusion of 9th grade should bring with it a basic civics and history exam to be taken by all students. By that time, they should have taken both a US History and a government class so they should have the knowledge. The data we could glean from such exams could be an excellent metric for the pedagogy of today's social studies teachers. It's long been my belief (and the data would likely bear this out) that social studies teachers skate by on doing the minimal amount of work. They don't have a fire under their arses that really needs to be there if we are actually going to get young people to have enduring understandings about history and civics. We have enough to compete with anyway with all the other social influences in kids' lives.
By the time they get to me, I see the results. They don't remember much of what they have learned and had instructors that spent a lot of time showing movies or going on field trips. I'm really sick and tired of people living the stereotype of the social studies teacher being just a slight jump up from the gym teacher. Hell, I'm tired of people living the gym teacher stereotype as well. I'd say that they have done a pretty poor job as well when you consider how rotund our nation's children have become although I know it's not entirely their fault.
So, let's forget this stupid debate about the content of social studies and what political view needs to be studied and focus on the fundamental goal: mastery of basic civics and history. We've gone far too long with young people not understanding the history of our government, how it functions, and the people that have been and are involved making decisions that affect all of our lives. Connections need to be made to their daily lives and the importance of what happens in government and in history must be illustrated in new and exciting ways for each and every student.
It's time for social studies to be taken much more seriously.