December 10, 2010

Social Studies Education in the Public School...or lack thereof...

OR: "No, thank YOU, No Child Left Behind!"

In a day and age where the teaching time is fleeting and assessments are many, any subject that's not tested falls to the back burner.  Every bright-eyed, idealistic young student teacher swears, "Not in MY classroom!  I would never give up teaching [science/social studies/creative writing/fine arts/fill in the blank...]!!!!"  But then, there we are in the real life classroom, with AYP, NCLB, state testing, and other crushing pressures suddenly on our shoulders.  And even us liberally educated, once-idealistic teachers suddenly start filling afternoons with practice pages from test-prep books instead of read alouds, interactive units, and creative projects.  (Sorry, but my mood is already headed south in anticipation of spring testing!)

To further illustrate this inevitable transformation, here is a glimpse into the teacher I always knew I'd be: I did my senior research project on Peace Education, and presented it to peers and professors having reached the conclusion that themes of peace and conflict resolution must be woven into the very fibers of one's teaching, must be at the very heart of every lesson, unit, and activity.  I adamantly voiced that a culture of peace in the classroom COULD and WOULD help change the world.  (God I know.  So young, so naive.)  

Don't get me wrong--I still believe in those things.  It is just that there are MANY other things on our plates in the real life classroom!  And there just plain isn't time to do it all.  I'm not squeezing in mini-lessons on conflict resolution strategies, studying subversive topics in American history, or holding regular classroom meetings to problem solve "issues."  Nope, not even close.  

I admit: Social studies has never been my favorite subject to teach.  I'm not sure why, but I'm just not excited about it.  That being said, though, I in no way underestimate the importance of social studies education.  How can we expect to NOT make the same mistakes in the future that mar our nations past if we aren't educating children about our history?  How can we expect tolerance between countries and peoples without studying, and thereby appreciating and understanding, the differences in the world?  Yet social studies education is sorely lacking in classrooms ALL OVER America.  In fact, our state gave any hope of adequate social studies education the kiss of death when it decided it wasn't important enough to make it onto the state test.  (Not that I'm complaining about that--I would probably kill myself if I had to prep the kids for ANOTHER test...)  

And this week, when we read about the American Revolution in our literacy book, I was appalled, yet not surprised, by the complete and utter lack of background knowledge my kids have on American history...Yes, I know it's MY job to teach them.  God knows I'm trying.  But something to work with, please...

ANYWAYS, here they are, the two quotes straight from the mouths of my little darlings that inspired this rant and made me die a small death inside.  Two utterances that truly illustrate how much we (myself included) are failing the youth of today in social studies education:

Miss Teacher: "What country was the Patriot army, the American army, fighting against in the Revolutionary War?"
Student: "Boston?'
Miss Teacher: *shakes head* "No...just, no..."

Student's vocabulary word sentence for the word tyrant: "Lincoln is tyrant of the revolutionary war."

The future of America, ladies and gentlemen.

God help us all.

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