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Social studies follies

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Over at the Fordham Institute’s Education Gadfly, Chester Finn, the organization’s president, responds to the recently released statement by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) about its upcoming framework for states to use as they develop their social studies standards.

The CCSSO released its 8-page statement, “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards,” this past weekend at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference in Seattle. The framework itself will be released sometime after January. Based on the statement, though, Finn is not optimistic about what’s left to come.

He writes:

The cumbersome, inscrutable title is the first clue that something is not right: “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3): Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards.”

Welcome to the social studies follies. […] This preview document supplies reason to be plenty alarmed about what lies ahead. The second clue is implicit in its opening paragraphs:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework, currently under development, will ultimately focus on the disciplinary and multidisciplinary concepts and practices that make up the process of investigation, analysis, and explanation which will be informative to states interested in upgrading their social studies standards. It will include descriptions of the structure and tools of the disciplines (civics, economics, geography, and history) as well as the habits of mind common in those disciplines. The C3 Framework will also include an inquiry arc—a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content. This framing and background for standards development to be covered in C3 all point to the states’ collective interest in students using the disciplines of civics, economics, geography, and history as they develop questions and plan investigations; apply disciplinary concepts and tools; gather, evaluate, and use evidence; and work collaboratively and communicate their conclusions.

The C3 Framework will focus primarily on inquiry and concepts, and will guide — not prescribe — the content necessary for a rigorous social studies program. CCSSO recognizes the critical importance of content to the disciplines within social studies and supports individual state leadership in selecting the appropriate and relevant content.

Did you spot the missing words? I’ll bet you did. They are the verb “know” and the noun “knowledge.” As best one can tell, the present social studies project cares not a whit about whether kids end up with any of the familiar “knowledge” of social studies. “What is the Declaration of Independence?” “What does the Bill of Rights do?” “What is the Emancipation Proclamation?” “When was World War I, why was it fought, who won, and what were the consequences?” “How many senators does your state have and what are their names?” “Where is Taiwan? Why is Burma called Myanmar?” “What was the ‘Cultural Revolution’ and what were its effects on China and its people?” And on and on and on.

We do a lousy job of imparting that kind of information to our students today. If the drafters of this “vision” have their way, we’ll do even worse tomorrow.

Read the rest of Finn’s post here, and head to Catherine Gewertz’s post on the subject at Education Week for a little more background.