Monday, December 22, 2014

Board of Regents unwisely eyes cutting back on social studies

The National Council for the Social Studies defines social studies as the "integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence." In common practice in our public school systems social studies encompass a wide range of classes from US and world history to global studies.

These courses have long been extremely important aspects of education as their mastery helps children to develop critical thinking, understand their community, prepare for the civic responsibilities of adulthood, and foster a global understanding necessary in our ever-shrinking world. 

Despite all of those needs and, no pun intended, the history of their value, social studies are again on the chopping block in New York State.

The Board of Regents is the ultimate governing body of public education in New York State, supervising all educational activities within the State while presiding over SUNY and the New York State Education Department (you know them from the infamous Regents Exams). Following their October meeting the Board released a detailed educational plan that aims to, as they put it, “help provide the skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and a variety of demanding, high-skill career paths.”

In doing so, they’ve alluded to a perceived unimportance of history or global studies. Under their plan, called “4 + 1”, students would have the option of not taking one of the social studies exams (US history or Global) currently required for a State Regents diploma. They could, instead, replace it with another exam in career technical, STEM, humanities, foreign language or art. Even then, the exam in global history/geography would be watered-down, covering only what was learned in the second year of the two-year course. You can download the proposal here:

If one has ever looked at the course loads, or lack thereof, put on modern American students -- a system in which many students have one or more regularly-scheduled study halls (which, as I remember, were nothing more than social hours) -- it begs the questions: Why can’t they have it all? Why do they need to select one of the above at the expense of understanding the dynamics of our world? If career-preparedness is the goal, why skimp on social studies?

Some would say that history has no worth in the workplace, as what kids learned in school was only rote material, memorized and forgotten. That’s not the case. Proper understanding of history requires the use of critical and abstract thinking (tools all workers need) to determine why things happened as they did and how their outcomes and domino effects influence the day-to-day of our lives. That skill set works equally well when applied to any number of work tasks, whether it’s understanding financials or developing a job task, work unit, or corporate strategy.

Likewise, global studies are absolutely critical for today’s workforce. It’s a global economy, one in which America will soon no longer hold the top spot. We’d better understand our place in the world and all the myriad partners and nations we have to work with. It’s the only way our businesses, economy, and nation can compete.   

There’s no need to stop at the workplace, either. We aren’t just preparing kids for their careers, we’re preparing them for life.

If we de-emphasize our history classes and in turn our past, present and future, citizens won’t be engaged in their community and nation. Not enough people volunteer or vote now – how will future generations behave?     
If we minimize teens’ analysis of our world, how will they as adults understand that which needs fixing around the globe – the threats of terror and where they come from and why, oppression that still runs rampant in this world, our next war and so much more? Not enough adults give a hoot now about anything beyond our borders – how will future generations see the world?   

The full Board of Regents will be meeting on January 12th and 13th when it is anticipated that the regulations will be presented for permanent adoption. It is expected that the board will unanimously approve the measures as they did in October.

But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to sway them.

If you see value in social studies and would like to see their importance preserved, submit your comments in support to the address below:

Merryl Tisch, Chancellor, Board of Regents
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Board of Regents, Room 110 EB
Albany, New York 12234

From the 22 December 2014 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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