As the new school year rapidly approaches, many new teachers will feel excited, worried, anxious, and full of innovative ideas. If teaching secondary social studies they will face numerous challenges outside of the many new teachers encounter. In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required that students grades three through eight be tested on reading and math proficiency. Social studies was not included.
Teachers not just in DC, but all over the country keep a dirty little secret about what doesn’t happen in the classroom. As the school year progresses many elementary teachers stop teaching social studies, why? Because it’s not federally mandated by NCLB. Why spend time teaching it if it’s not covered on the test? Many teachers face this dilemma. However, it must stop.
Now some states have different benchmark tests that may include social studies, but most don’t. Some states like Maryland require at the high school level that students pass core subject area tests in order to graduate.
If social studies is not being taught at all or sporadically at the elementary level, how can students have an advanced or even basic understanding of history, geography, and government when they are ready to enter middle school and high school?
While this may not seem like a problem to many in the short run, it can have long term devastating effects. This creates enormous gaps in instruction time, remediation, assessment, and mastery.
Teachers are under a lot of pressure. No one ever wants to hear someone complain about their job, especially teachers. It’s hard but very rewarding! Educators keep up the good work.
Often times, in the current political climate teachers are the first to be blamed and the last to be thanked, our educational structure as a whole needs to be reevaluated. Perceptions about a one size fits all approach to education are often simplistic and short term.
If this continues to persist whether or not in one school, one school district or in states all over the country, students will matriculate having little knowledge of geography, history, civics, and economics. Social studies is comprised of interdisciplinary subject areas.
Students can use math skills in social studies and will learn about government budgeting; students can use identifying details and analyzing skills when learning about state and local government, etc.
Social studies is a great platform for students to use critical thinking skills. Students have the opportunity to not only work on one skill, but several that they can master throughout the school year. We need a generation of young people that are trained to use critical thinking to solve problems, not a generation of young people that are just trained to take tests.
Students aren’t getting the magic of education anymore. Teaching social studies can inspire and motivate our students to become involved in their communities; learn to solve problems by empowering themselves and others; students can gain a sense of pride in their culture and history; and most importantly students learn about the law.
Social studies is not being taught, because of the zealous testing culture is unacceptable. Neglecting social studies from classrooms short changes our students over the long haul. Washington DC as the nation’s capitol has a rich history, so DC area schools should have an extra emphasis on social studies. Parents and teachers please use DC as an educational playground for your students. There is so much history all around this amazing city.
Things you can do:
- Have students read and discuss an article on a current event or issue weekly. This can be a forum to discuss international issues and events.
- Students can watch/listen to coverage on news (please avoid political commentary shows). Local issues or controversies will allow students to discuss and problem solve.
- Take students on a field trip in Washington DC area. There are many places to go for free. Try something different like a play, orchestra, any of the Smithsonian museums, Capitol Hill to meet their member of Congress, a local university or high school, Etc.
- Have students form a student government and elect officers to address issues at your school or in your community.
- Create a History, World Cultures, or International Studies Club at your school that fits your schools culture and student body. Themes can alternate every quarter. Make sure to expose your students to different languages, music, and customs.
- Students can have community service requirements as a part of their grades in social studies.
- Host an event at your school to invite parents. Discuss and model ways for parents to help their students study and learn. It can also be used to develop school community and to strengthen parent- teacher relationships.
For more resources on teaching social studies in your classroom or at home , please review these resources and Web sites National Council for Social Studies Community Network, Center for Civic Education, Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers, Generation Citizen, and The Dreyfuss Initiative.
President Obama and Arne Duncan the Secretary of Education have detailed their education policies; please see 2010 Dept of Education policy recommendations.
(In the interest of full disclosure, Ms. Carlisle is former Hill staffer who teaches secondary social studies. So, she’s a little biased. Here is an article she wrote for the Washington Post, Another Obstacle to D.C. School Reform)