Why Is There Controversy Over Social Studies Programs? (page 3)
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.
|Fifth grade||American History|
|Sixth grade||World History (Western Civilization)|
|Eighth grade||American History|
In the late 1930s, Paul Hanna proposed a sequence of instructional topics that was to revolutionize elementary school social studies. This framework, known as the Expanding Communities Model or Expanding Environments curriculum, was based on a theory that children's ability to understand their world progresses through a series of developmental stages and that social studies programs should be structured to coincide with those stages (Hanna, 1957, 1963). The progression was from a study of the children themselves and their homes and families through increasingly larger communities which were more remote and abstract to children's thinking.
In spite of all the pressure for change, the Expanding Environments concept has been the major influence on social studies curriculum for over 50 years. The first eight grades of the twelve-grade Hanna model are shown in the following list. Alongside it the dominant pattern of curriculum organization currently used in textbook and school curricula is shown.
|Grade||Expanding Environments Model||Contemporary Curriculum|
|Kindergarten||(Kindergartens were not mandatory at this time.)||Self, school, home, families, community|
|First||The child, the home, the family, the school||Families, communities|
|Second||The neighborhood, neighborhood helpers||Neighborhoods|
|Third||The larger community, cities||Communities|
|Fourth||The state, region||State history, geographic regions|
|Fifth||The United States and its neighbors||American history|
|Sixth||The world (Western Civilization)||World cultures, the Western hemisphere|
|Seventh||World geography||World geography|
|Eighth||History of the United States||American history|
The beauty of the Expanding Environments model was its logic. It made sense to a lot of people both from the standpoint of its reflection of a reasonable pattern of child development and as a logical way to organize the social studies. Hanna's model was developed at a fortunate time in many ways. The social climate of the nation was ideal with America coming through a depression and a world war from which it emerged as the leading power in the free world. Technology and communication as well as the economic conditions were also right. Hanna's model was soon adopted by many school systems and by textbook publishers. It is, to this day, the most common model used in elementary schools in the United States.
From the 1960s to the 1970s a spirit of reform gripped the social studies. It manifested itself in a series of well-warranted criticisms of the expanding environment curriculum as it was by then represented in textbook series and school curricula across the country and in the development of new curricula, many of which were closely tied to the various social science disciplines. Critics pointed out that social studies teachers relied too heavily on textbooks and that there was too much memorization of facts. But there was major curricular criticism as well. Critics charged that the social studies lacked sufficient substantive content; that African Americans, Hispanic Americans, women, and other groups were insufficiently represented, stereotypically represented, or misrepresented, and that significant issues and content topics of controversy were avoided. Theories of reform efforts and projects that resulted from this criticism are sometimes referred to as "The New Social Studies." Spurred in part by federal funding and in part by the social consciousness and concern of the period, the lasting changes injected into the social studies by these reform efforts during this era included:
- A greater sensitivity to the representation of various ethnic groups and women in social studies material
- Focus on inquiry and values
- Greater global consciousness
- Focus on social sciences other than history and geography as sources of insight and methods of inquiry about the world
- Greater awareness of and ability to deal with controversy in the social studies classroom
- An emphasis on learning concepts and generalizations rather than isolated facts
More recent efforts to set direction for the social studies have reaffirmed the importance of history and geography while at the same time accepting a less structured and more incidental social studies content for the primary grades. Perhaps the most prestigious of the recent groups to examine the future of the social studies have been two curriculum task forces. The first of these was the Curriculum Task Force of the National Commission on the Social Studies in the Schools, which published a report, Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century. it the task force advocated a curriculum of stories about people accompanied by holiday study and following up time and place location information in reading stories, mathematics, and other materials. The Task Force suggested that such a program was sufficient to ensure elementary understanding of world geography, the civic and political traditions of the United States, and human life in different continents and at different times in the past (Task Force of the National Commission on the Social Studies in the Schools, 1989, 9). The Task Force envisioned three courses being taught in grades four, five, and six, which would include (in no specified order) (1) United States History, (2) World History, and (3) .
The second group, set up by the National Council for the Social Studies, was called the Task Force on Standards for the Social Studies. It worked over a period of three years before coming out with its report, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (1994). The standards approved were intended to influence and guide curriculum design and overall student expectations for grades k–12. The standards established 10 basic themes for the social studies:
- Time, continuity, and change
- People, places, and environment
- Individual development and identity
- Individuals, groups, and institutions
- Power, authority, and governance
- Production, distribution, and consumption
- Science, technology, and society
- Global connections
- Civic ideals and practices
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