Why Is There Controversy Over Social Studies Programs? (page 2)
Social studies has been, and will continue to be, constantly under attack by critics. The content taught in social studies is constantly being examined. The root reason for this is that learning social studies is a lot more complex than developing an ability or skill such as reading and mathematics. It is almost without boundary or borders.
There are, arguably, five overlapping social studies curricula existing in most elementary and middle schools. First, there is the formal curriculum that is the basis of social studies classes. It usually is prescribed for, or determined by, the teachers and has clearly defined goals and parameters and is embodied in a course of study or sometimes by the textbook used. Second, there is a curriculum that is very pronounced in the primary grades and much less so but still existing later on that has to do with events and with the calendar itself. Holidays, birthdays, seasons, weather, and current events all conspire to form this curriculum which is, by its very nature, more fluid and flexible than the formal curriculum. This second curriculum may be reasoned out by the teacher to relate to the formal curriculum and have corresponding goals. The third curriculum is really embedded in the materials used to teach other subjects, especially reading and language arts. The stories in readers and the literature program deal with people, places, and events, and readers have traditionally paralleled social studies content. Through fictional and nonfictional literature, children are made aware of how people live, think, and get along with others. Science and arithmetic similarly present social studies content, particularly with reference to the stories behind discoveries, inventions, and theories. The fourth curriculum has to do with the organizational functions of the school and the classroom and is embodied in what is taught about the ways to work together and alone, the development and following of class and school rules, and the way that students are taught to act throughout the school day. This curriculum is very closely tied to the fifth curriculum which is becoming increasingly more manifest in schools, the program specifically to develop values and/or character.
With this richly varied array of curricula, which may, at times, be contradictory, there are at least five factors that contribute to the controversial nature of the social studies.
- Anything that human effort produces is, by definition, imperfect. Before we even get a curriculum together, we and others begin to see the flaws and problems. When we put something into use, those flaws become glaringly apparent to us.
- Cultural change is constant. We live in an era of immense societal complexity and rapid change. As rapidly as we develop a program, changes occur that require adjustments. Social studies curricula are responsive to changes in the social climate. Changes in emphasis are likely to reflect the times. Wars, depressions, periods of prosperity, international relationships, and a host of other things that influence the public climate impact the social studies.
- People have differing values, priorities, and viewpoints. The social studies is not just a skill subject. In a democratic society, there is little likelihood of long-term consensus and none at all of universal agreement on what ought to be taught and from what viewpoint.
- Special-interest groups influence curriculum. In our society, there are pressure groups with their own agendas and expectations. They want to influence or even control what is being taught in the schools.
- Social studies represents an enormous changing body of knowledge. The social studies simply defy coverage or even adequate sampling. We can never have enough depth or breadth.
The term social studies, to a great extent, a product of the twentieth century. It was officially adopted as the name for the curricular area in 1916 by the Committee on Social Studies, a subgroup of the Commission to Reorganize Secondary Education, which had been set up by the National Education Association (Jarolimek, 198l, 5). That committee also recommended the following curricula for grades five through eight, which were traditionally considered part of elementary or grammar school.
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