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Is NCLB Making History of Social Studies?

| 62 Comments

Experts are seeing an increasing trend to devote more class time and instruction to reading and math, as well as other core subjects deemed crucial by state and federal mandates. As a result, subjects such as social studies and civic education are experiencing a decrease in curriculum resources.

Is the No Child Left Behind Act's emphasis on reading and math squeezing social studies out of the curriculum? What role should social studies play in school's today? How can curriculum demands be balanced?

62 Comments

I am a first year middle school teacher. I have a B.A. in social science and a MA in social science education. I love the social sciences and feel they are of critical to public education in a democracy. Isn't citizenship the frequently espoused justification for publicly mandated education? And yet I feel as though I am supposed to be apologetic for my discipline and acquiesce to math and reading. I have sat through countless assessment meetings where I am told to find ways to to teach math and reading test standards in my class. I am very open to cross discipline collaboration, but I also believe social studies education is valuable in and of itself. I don't think I should waste supposed professional development time on test prep as it is, but to do so in other subject areas is an insult. I was shocked to find that many of my students have had limited prior social studies education, and that younger grade teachers openly say they don't teach social studies despite the state standards. I know reading and writing are important but I wonder, what exactly will students have to write about if they know nothing about the historical forces that have shaped their lives and the world we all live in today?

Social Studies is an artificial subject, created by the Progressive Education movement in the early 20th Century. We have a tremendous lack of Math and Reading skills because of the belief in just this ideal. The proponents of the Progressive Education movement espoused these "new" subjects and devalued hard academics as useless and not worth study. These new subjects would bring on the golden era of Democracy and help us all be better citizens. They failed in the last century and they will fail in this century. We spend too much time on these subjects and extracurricular activities. The result shows in the poor test results and students unable to perform in College once they graduate from High School.

The traditional academic core subjects should take precedence over the other subjects if we are to remain a viable country. We cannot afford another generation of poorly educated students.

I have taught 6th grade Social Studies for 8 years. I am currently getting my MEd in Social Studies Curriculum & Instruction. I,too have been increasingly frustrated with the marginalization of my subject matter, my passion. I understand that reading and math are crucial skills which we are duty-bound to develop in our students. If a student is unable to read or do basic math calculations it will be impossible for him/her to read and understand the basics of Science and Social Studies. However, that does not mean that knowing about the history of the Ancient Greeks and their democratic "experiment", the true foundation of which our great country was built, is not vitally important. We lament each election cycle about voter apathy. Should this really be such a surprise? Students are not taught the value of their vote. They are not learning that the voice they do have in this representative democracy comes from their mere appearance in the voting booth. Where should they learn this information? In the Social Studies classroom. To Brian O I pose the question, when did history lose its status as a core subject? I support the NCSS in all its measures to bring awareness about this tragedy. To those from the current administration who say that it is an important part of NCLB, unfortunately, only that which is tested is considered "important". For decades I have heard very little about the importance of Social Studies education and heard much about how the US must become more competitive in the Math and Science arenas. Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come for us to realize that creating competitive, competent students comes from a well-rounded education - one that includes literature, math, science, social studies, music, art, and physical education.

Even though I've decided to make the career transition to public-school Reading Specialist, I can understand concerns expressed about the trend downplaying the importance of social studies. The need to devote significant resources toward core competencies such as reading is beyond dispute, and is one of the reasons I am devoting my life (at the age of 40) to becoming an expert in such instruction; however, it seems short-sighted to simply teach kids how to read more effectively and not guide them toward a greater understanding of why some societies have failed and how others have succeeded. Reading about these struggles and experiments, while encouraging students to think critically about these events and the people who shaped them, is hardly a waste of time -- cranking out citizens who succeed as test-takers and fail as analytical citizen-thinkers is a waste, however.

How will our students find ways to meet the challenges of the 21st century -- both domestic and international, unless we teach them both the content and skills of history and the social sciences? Of course I believe that our children must learn to read, write, master skills of math and science, too. Social studies offers insights into processes that extend over long periods of time and more than one generation. Unless we have this kind of perspective, how can we make decisions wisely? Social studies has to be part of the curriculum in order to persuade our children that government of, by, and for the people is worth making the effort and sometimes, sacrificing one's self-interest in the name of a civil society worthy of our traditions. Where will students learn about the value of public service if they never learn about it?

For children in 4th grade and higher, Social Studies textbooks are the perfect place to supplement the teaching of reading. For decoding, students can learn the common Latin roots (such as rupt, struct, dict) and their affixes to decode and comprehend words such as disruptive, reconstruction, and dictator.
Knowiing these roots helps not only reading but spelling and vocabulary as well. For comprehension, teachers can point out both descriptive and sequential expository text structure, and help design graphic organizers to summarize a variety of topics. In this way, reading instruction can be one focus of the social studies content area.

Response to BrianO.
I cannot disagree more, the cornerstone of our society here in the United States is Democracy. Although we are not perfect, our society could possibly be the most important one in world political evolution. Reading and Mathematics are important, but should not be focused on at the expense of Social Studies. Please remember that education is totally cyclical, and that there will ALWAYS be some crisis in education. Our problems today stem from the politics and the parents who enble students' poor habits, mediocrity, and the blame game. Furthermore, as long as people that are not educators make decisions about education, the cycle of mediocrity will continue to exist.

Reading is not decoding; it is thinking; writing is thinking as well. If students cannot comprehend ideas and then articulate them clearly and concisely, it does not matter what the content contains; it will not be accessible. If education is truly about critical thinking and democracy, then it must provide access for all students. All teachers must teach reading and writing, skills most often relegated to English teachers who have a passion for their discipline too. People can always accomplish more as a team.

Reading, writing, and math are crucial skills; they can be incorporated in every subject, including social studies. In Michigan, the state has added social studies to the benchmarks and the standardized testing. This has highlighted some of the problems, and forced us to address the weaknesses. Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy; we need to teach our students what that means.

In the current environment of "accountability" the only true core subject is teaching. Teachers are no longer valued as professionals and are told how to spend every minute of their day...and those minutes are all about testing. Not only is Social Studies in crisis but so is Science, Handwriting, Fine Arts and anything that else that may actually spark interest in a child. Reading, Writing and Math are critical but if they are taught in isolation that is also how students learn to use the skills. I agree with those who say that reading skills can be taught in Social Studies - they can, but only if teachers are actually allowed to teach. If the government truly wants our education system to improve they need to find less agressive and more natural forms of accountability and to encourage teachers to perform at their professional best in a more positive and respectful manner.

Florida FCAT high stakes test requires 30 minutes for every student every day some of the poor schools up to 90 minutes a day. That’s 40 school days from the 180 required. There is little time for history or the arts. Reading, math and science, (added this year), take center stage. Few teachers get to chapter 15 in a 20-chapter book. Every year students fall further behind.
Bob

I agree wholeheartedly with the above assertions that reading, math, and writing taught in isolation, is akin to giving a man a fish. Social studies, science, geography/history, and fine arts give a student a real life reason and way to use these skills. Teachers should be encouraged to incorporate these real life experiences into their teaching through Problem Based Learning. As an elementary substitute teacher/retired, I visit many classrooms and I see so little evidence of this kind of teaching. Students would love to extend their basic skills to more meaningful situations. I also believe that integrating technology/skills/research into the curriculum is an additional way of securing students interests and collaboration in their own learning.

Social studies teachers agree that the key to closing the achievement gap, increasing parental involvement in schools, and increasing motivation to learn is through engaging social studies instruction. The common denominator in facilitating literacy development in our students, which combines the realms of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, is undoubtedly the ability to be a problem solver. Students need to be able to tap into a wealth of problem solving resources, skills, strategies, and scaffolds in order to enhance their literacy abilities. What better arena is there to study problem solving in a practical way than through social studies? Students need to grapple with the problems and solutions generated by centuries of struggle and strife among the world's cultures and societies. How will students know how to "attack" a challenging word problem in math or poem steeped in complex vocabulary and figurative language if they are unable to see the challenge from multiple perspectives? The strategic use of social studies genres, both primary and secondary sources, to teach problem solving while embedding reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills is the cornerstone of the standards-based reform efforts, and should not be diminished or discarded in favor of scripted reading and math programs that consume and dilute the curriculum. Students deserve the opportunity to be pilots in their learning processes, not just passengers along for the ride.

It seems to me that we keep asking the wrong questions. What gets measured is what gets done. Under NCLB and other tougher standards/high stakes testing models of education we are only interested in measuring simple facts in "core subjects." We don't seem concerned that the results from all this testing tell us nothing about how to improve educational outcomes or to motivate students or to create greater opportunity for our children and our society. The data isn't used to improve education so much as to provide politicians with a simple enough "outcome" to measure and hang their hats on. Yet as I'm sure many reading this know, education is a complicated and multifaceted process. Therefore, the questions that need to be asked and the conversations that our public leaders need to have regarding education must be about more than an easily measured "bottom line." I'm sure Bernard Ebbers, Kenneth Lay and Martha Stewart all had high test scores. A lot of good it did them or our country. But until we demand more from our leaders how can we expect anything different than for social studies to become history or art or science or creative thinking or physical fitness or a love of learning or more ethical business practice? As a parent I am appalled at what is happening to our public education system and the implications not only for our children's futures, but for the future of our democracy. Under NCLB we'll have test scores aplenty, but responsible and contributing members of society, not so much.

I find it hard to imagine someone saying increased focus on reading instruction is pushing out social studies. The two have countless possibilities for integration. Can we encourage teachers to use social studies topics to develop reading? This approach would address the need to help students develop the skill of being widely read. The current focus on boys' literacy skills falling behind, would be helped by offering genres(history, non-fiction) that they tend to enjoy.

The arguments cited here are very persuasive and often made concerning the need to teach social studies (particularly history and civics) in elementary schools. We are all aware of the pressure elementary teachers and administrators (especially of low SES schools) feel to increase test scores at the expense of non-tested content areas. Therefore, teachers spend most of the teaching day teaching reading, writing, and math skills. However, what does reading research say? The answer is, as someone else noted, that reading is much more than decoding. Reading and writing are all about thinking. Many studies, including the (in)famous NRP as well as work done by countless other reading researchers, are clear in that in order to read with understanding the reader must have a grounding in other content areas - social studies is often the area cited as "other content areas". It is clear that students who learn social studies achieve in reading and writing as well. It is also clear that good social studies instruction integrates literacy. Content and literacy are two sides of the same coin. One without the other is worthless and miseducative. Therefore, in order for social studies goals to be achieved, social studies teachers must embed literacy into instruction. Related, the teaching of literacy must integrate content knowledge - especially social studies. Teaching reading in isolation ultimately lessens achievement.

Several folks have said "Integrate the curriculum". I say YES to that. Use important topics to teach reading skills, and highlight math concepts in them as well. It is harder, since people skilled at Math are not always skilled at Reading/English, and tend to favor one over the other. Word problems in math are harder than the rote formula/number problems. Essay questions in history are MUCH harder than "multiple choice". People joke about how hard it is to Read the Directions to assemble a toy. It is also hard to WRite the directions so folks will understand it more easily. BUrger King uses pictograms to tell their illiterate staff what to put on a hamburger. Is that where we are headed?

It can be irritating to interrupt the flow of a story about George Washington to ask "how many miles did the troops cover in a day if it was X miles from Valley Forge and it took them a week?" Or "how many pounds of fatback did he need to order to feed his men for a week?" Or to grade the grammar and spelling in an essay about him---but that would be better than some of these "dick and jane" measured reading program stories (yes i know the names are different now) and rote math drills where you do 20 or 30 of the same type of problem.

At least the stories in my daughter's reading text are excerpts from books she can find in the library rather than "especially written" just for the textbook. BUT it could as well have included more non-fiction and help the dearth of subject matter about artists and musicians and forestall the loss of social studies.

forgot to add to my previous note---Principal Squier asked why teachers aren't asked to integrate the curricula they teach. I am sure many do, but it would be easier for the textbooks to model it by including questions that encourage it--at the elementary level, anyway, spelling lists, definitions, math concepts could be included so not every teacher has to reinvent the wheel.

Frankly the textbooks i have seen could do with an overhaul--the directions for math are often unclear, and the social studies book this year has some pretty long and convoluted sentences. By the time you get to the end of a sentence its not always clear if it was supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing or whatit had to do with the previous sentence. Whether that is "bad writing" or an attempt to teach a kid how to "Dig" for facts i don't know.

As a middle-aged education student who aspires to return to a classroom to teach social studies, I am concerned about the lack of a working knowledge of democracy, both theoretical and practical, that I encounter in today's high school students. My biggest fear however, is that in many underserved schools students no longer have any interest or motivation to learn about the foundations of our democracy and what an amazing "experiment" the founders engaged in. Students should feel empowered by their opportunities to participate in a democratic society and social studies is the main subject to provide them with this motivation. Critical thinking skills are encouraged more thoroughly in this subject and the ability to back up an expressed opinion with facts is the cornerstone of being a thoughtful participatory adult in our society. By reducing social studies to a tertiary subject we lose an outstanding opportunity to teach students to participate in the democratic process and to form a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilites as Americans.

Even at the high school level, the principle of learning communities can be implemented and students can integrate listening and writing skills into the process of learning social studies. They, in turn, learn to write more clearly and precisely by evaluating historical and civic information. Mathematical principles can be cemented with the study of economics and examination of global economy. An integrated curriculum should stress the importance of both reading and writing and the study of domestic and world history and issues. No other subject gives a classroom teacher the opportunity to explore the elemental question "Why?" and instill motivation for further learning than social studies.It is the study of the "real world" that students encounter everyday.
Let me be a provacateur, and put forward that the administration might not be interested in the agenda of educating informed citizens while pieces of legislation such as the Patriot Act are proclaimed into law and practices such as extraordinary rendition are occurring on a regular basis.

I love History!! I love the realness of it and am trying to pass it on to my students. How can they function in a society if they know nothing about how it works? If History is taken away, they will not be exposed to things like The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution...the FOUNDATIONS of our country! How will they be expected to learn how to be a productive citizen if they don't even know why they need to be? I have no problem integrating all the other subjects into Social Studies/History but think we will harm the future of our country and world if we focus less on it.

Wake up, all: Reading and Math subjects are tool subjects. We need them to access the rest of our world. There is no reason to sacrifice science & social studies for a greater emphasis on reading and math. There is no reason science and social studies cannot be the content for teaching reading and math skills. I have witnessed in my own as well as others' classrooms the improvement in reading and math skills when they are taught in an applied settings.

The ruling class knows that an uninformed and ignorant populace will not impede them much. When fascism erupts, the intellectuals are the first to go...Bread and circuses- keep their bellies full and their minds occupied...

The ideas discussed by my colleagues are intriguing and will hopefully generate more fruitful discussion about the quandary in which we find ourselves. I do teach lanugage arts and find it nearly impossible to effectively teach the subject without drawing on my knowledge in all the other academic fields. Education, as implied, should be balanced. I am concerned about the move away from a riguous curriculum in social studies and the arts because these are the few places that minority and womens voices have finally been heard. As it is, we just have one 'offical' month each year to celebrate the contributions of these silent voices. I guess I'm pessimistic when it comes to advocates of just reading/ writing/ and arithemtic as the all truth. It appears to me to be part of a facade to sanitize the curriculum so that ignorance of self, regardless of the ethnic, socio-economic, gender background gets buried in legislative piles of rubble. We keep hearing the whines from our 'leaders' that it is for the children. Well so was the lottery, and we see how much of that money makes a difference in the resources we can afford for instruction. As long as non-educators are calling the shots...look for more of the same grostesque legislation and policy from all the talking heads. It's truly not about children...but about maintaining the status quo...and their administrative budgets.

I believe that this debate is focusing upon the wrong issue (core curriculum vs. non-core). I believe that the education community should reevaluate all courses to ensure that they are teaching the requisite critical thinking skills. What is the point of obtaining knowledge (math, english, science)if a person does not know how to utilize it? Today's workforce places a premium upon individuals who problem-solve. Stay focus upon the real issues??

As a former social studies publisher, I was alarmed at the waning of social studies. Social studies comprise much of the content that form the warp and woof of life skills and human engagement. Time spent on social studies is not time taken away from reading. Quite the contrary, it is reading in life's own context. However, sometimes the shortness of sight of social science professionals can be part of the problem. The wide disparity in state standards makes it difficult to create and maintain a curriculum the works in harmony with reading and language arts. If one doubts the need for a strong social studies curriculum, one need only watch the "Jay Walking" segment on the Tonight Show. Jay Leno hits the streets to uncover the ignorace of the American public. Almost all the questions he asks are social studies questions--geography, history, civics, economics, and so forth. Our lack of commitment to the social studies curriculum is a point of ridicule on late night television, and it will harvest a disengaged and ill-informed electorate. How sad.

Reading and writing are crucial. They are the backbone of everything we teach and expect from the children. However, let us not forget that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". How do we show the children the errors of the past if we don't teach it?

Reading and writing are crucial. They are the backbone of everything we teach and expect from the children. However, let us not forget that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". How do we show the children the errors of the past if we don't teach it?

I just stumbled across this website. What a great resource. I want to specifically endorse S. Seawell's comments above. I completely agree with his assessment.

At our school (K-2) I am helping lead a parent response to the County (Montgomery County, MD) cutting back the science/social studies magnet program in our school. It is an understatement to say that many of the parents are livid. NCLB is the driver.

Unfortunately what I'm learning is that many parents adopt a "hands off" attitude toward their children's education. Without bottom-up community accountability you can forget about quality education outcomes that are real world based. Concurrently I am amazed as to how few well off families in our town have virtually no real connection to our school( PTA, volunteering, etc.). This is a big part of the problem, as I see it. I believe that our schools need to be accountable to the children, via their parents. If we as parents aren't actively advocating on behalf of our kids, then our children will suffer. Period.

Finally, in a previous career I ran a program that developed alternative measures of societal progress/regress (Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators). Measurement is powerful, but even more so are those that determine what to measure.

As a self-contained classroom teacher, let me assure you that there are still teachers that devote plenty of time to Social Studies and Science areas. Yes, you can teach the reading skills using something other than the state adopted "reading book." However, there is very little reading ancillary material supplied with the Social Studies or Science book. The items that are supplied are definitely not enough to adequately cover the reading skills that are tested at each grade level.

As an overworked, underpaid, supposedly state employee, but paid from the local district, I personally do not have the time or energy to create all that is needed to adequately teach all reading skills with out using the reading ancillary materials that are supplied with the state adopted textbooks.

If the social studies and science departments of the textbook companies would get with the reading departments and create the necessary materials to use the social studies and science books instead of the nonsense reading stories, then I don't see why any teacher would mind using those books instead of the reading book.

However, I guess there could be a problem of crossing department lines for those schools that are totally departmentalized and don't want one teacher teaching Social Studies or Science and Reading at the same time. I see that as cross-curriculum teaching. Isn't that what we want our kids to learn to do. That subjects are not set apart in the real world, but intertwined with each other.

In closing Texas does state-wide testing of Social Studies at 8th, 10th, and Exit Level. Science is tested at 5th, 10th, and Exit Level. This year we are field testing 8th grade Science. Also being considered is adding Social Studies testing to the elementary grades. With these accountabilities I can assure you that Social Studies and Science are not left out in the cold in our state.

I received an e-mail from the Democratic Party yesterday regarding an effort to limit freedom of speech in Congress.

The problem is whether we should teach math, and reading instead of social studies, but rather how do we find the time to do both.

Answer: Teach reading in social studies classrooms. We all talk about reading across the curriculum. Let's kill two birds with one stone. The same holds true with math. I especially think this should be done in elementary school since the classrooms are mostly self-contained and one teacher is responsible for student's progress in math, reading, writing, social studies and science.

The American Heritage dictionary online provides the term "Education" with, among, others, the following definitions:
"The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process." and
"An instructive or enlightening experience"
Having taught art and social studies at the secondary level, I suppose I could be labeled by BrianO as one of those outdated "progressives" who firmly believes education extends beyond the most basic skills required to work a counter at a fast-food chain or operating construction machinery. The new corporate masters would love to restrict "education" to those base functions - as teaching the populace to THINK serves no essential profit-making purpose.

As a long-time educator, it's insulting to be told to devote less time to a key subject like social studies. Our kids will suffer without a doubt.

My new strategy is to reinfore reading and literacy using social studies. I got the idea from attending the national NCSS this year. There were several sessions about this very crisis we are faced with.

I also mentioned it to my Nystrom sales rep and he came out and demonstrated how his materials could help me. I did my own selling to the principal and received the "official" OK. It's helping me accomplish my goals and now the principal is happy.

I suggest others in the same boat try this approach.

As a long-time educator, it's insulting to be told to devote less time to a key subject like social studies. Our kids will suffer without a doubt.

My new strategy is to reinfore reading and literacy using social studies. I got the idea from attending the national NCSS this year. There were several sessions about this very crisis we are faced with.

I also mentioned it to my Nystrom sales rep and he came out and demonstrated how his materials could help me. I did my own selling to the principal and received the "official" OK. It's helping me accomplish my goals and now the principal is happy.

I suggest others in the same boat try this approach.

Diane,TX ELE.3/13--ditto
S Seawell 3/16---ditto
Randall Squier/Princ. 3/16---ditto
Lee A 3/17--Good One!

As a teacher who has been around a long time, I have seen programs come & go, followed a variety of philosophies of education (depending on the administrator), and watched my profession suffer. Let us teach---that's what we hired on to do. Let us use the social studies book as a reading text. I don't teach very much anymore, yet I'm hired as a teacher. I prepare students to take tests that are not appropriate for them to take. I do hours of paperwork to appease the policitians and educational big-wigs.

Reading can be taught in other subject areas, not just alone in a sterile environment. Same with writing. Quit worrying about the numeric test score and start worrying about the product you are putting out---a successful member of society. Ready to become a productive, tax-paying, home-owning, voting, member of society. Let us do our job.

It is critical to understand that our individual and collective lives are authentic social studies curriculum. How could we ignore to facilitate an understanding of "our world", the world as each individual experiences it? Let's face it, most conflict arises from our lack of understanding, and thus tolerance of, cultural diversity and human differences. Through the study of the social sciences we may better understand diversity. We can learn from the mistakes of the past, and hopefully the patterns we observe lead us to the lessons needed so that we may some day share this world in peaceful coexisitance.

We too have been told to cut our Social Studies; one way we have found around this is to show videos with SS themes on cold days, no recess duty person days, etc. rather than the latest Disney movie. The kids have all seen these anyhow! One of the teachers stay with the kids and stop the video frequently to make comments. We then have short activities and discussions to complete this. The students seem to be remembering more factual information this way, as well as obtaining the emotion of certain historical times. We have focused on Colonial America and the Civil Rights movement this year. We still use our text some, but not near as much.

I am appalled at the comment that social studies is a political machine started during the Progressive movement and for no other reason than to appease some politicians. What happened to our children being well rounded, capable and knowledgable about the world around them. I am in my fourth year of teaching at a cyber school and realize the importance of our students being knowledgable in all areas. Social studies is a subject that is interdisciplinary and crosses many borders. All subjects are important for students to learn and master. What difference will it make if our students can add and subtract and read, if they are not knowledgable and aware of the world they live in? If our subjects were approached properly, all subjects would be stressed upon across the board.
It has been in the last 5 or so years that emphasis has focused on math and reading, which is an important area. The only reason that social studies is taking a back burner is because the same type of politicans that 'made' social studies a subject for their agendas is making the same agendas for math and reading according to biased, incompleted standarized tests. Our students are at the mercy of these standarized tests that prove no more important than that they can, or cannot take tests.
In addition, studies have proven that students involved in extra cirricular activities perform higher on these standarized tests and are less likely to drop out, become pregnant, and use drugs. Extra cirriculars in the arts proves an even higher performance in all academic areas, including math and science. We, as educators, cannot afford to see any of our disciplines disappear from our classrooms.

What a false dichotomy, one can teach both reading and math through Social Studies. It is imposssible for one to teach Social Science if students cannot read. One thing I would get rid of is the use of video and film in the classroom. Students should read, not view information, which makes them more passive.

I am doing my disseration work on how NCLB is affecting curriculum in the middle /junior high school. The comments I am reading give credence to my question. Are there other curricular areas that are feeling the effects of the emphasis on reading and math (science is soon to come)?

I cannot believe the hypocrisy of someone calling themselves a teacher and then complaining that they can't teach a subject because students cannot read. If you are truly a teacher you can teach Social Studies and Science even to students who can't read. It involves creativity and energy but it can be done. The problem is too many teachers want to phone it in from their desks instead of getting on their feet and DOING IT! A comment similar to Linda G.'s started the NCLB movement - what it should have done instead is identified the TLB (Teacher Left Behind) problem. ALL true teachers know that no matter your subject matter you also have to teach reading and spelling and grammar and even sometimes math. If you aren't capable or willing to do that - its time to move on.

I teach in the M.Ed Program at National-Louis University and also consult with schools in the Chicago area. I have recently been involved in helping two school districts update their social studies curriculum. The key here is not panic, but integration. Science and Social Studies afford children with opportunities to read and write about interesting dilemmas. They provide the perfect forum for debate, finding supportive evidence, writng persuasively, etc., TheMcREL research identified that 90% of what we read as adults is technical reading. The solution here is simple, kids need rich meaningful things to read about, they need to be engaged in technical reading. Science and Social Studies open the door to understanding an increasingly complex world. Why don't we use science and social studies to apply reading and math skills in meaningful ways? Just yesterday I worked with a group of teachers who were doing a soil unit in science. We decided it was the perfect chance for integration of meaningful curriculum. We decided to ask children to bring back pictures of the soil when they go on vacations, to write descriptions of the soil, to discuss the plants that grow there. We then are going to have them plot their vacation destinations on a class map, describe the soil, or bring samples if they are within US to conduct settling tests. How are soils alike and different in different parts of the country? How does this impact the way people make a living there? etc., We need more of this connecting in schools. Children will do fine on the test if we give them compelling curriculum. Why don't we start being proactive. As sience and social studies educators we need to creatively inform others of the fact that when we teach science and social studies, if we do our jobs well we inevitably teach math, reading and writing. Anne Grall Reichel

I recently completed my masters in elementary reading and earned a reading language arts specialists credential so I see the importance of reading, however, students need a variety of reading material to spark their interest in reading. I have also been told to cut social studies and only teach science because they are being tested on it. I find using trade books in a variety of areas to teach science and social students helps struggling and ELL students, but it keeps them interested and wanting to read other books on many topics. This provides students with an understanding that they can select any book on any topic to read for pleasure while learning necessary material. All area of the curriculum needed to be integrated so they are not so chunked and meaningless. We want the students to continue to learn and have the desire to learn whether we are there or not.

While reading and math are certainly important and improving these skills is important, other subjects should not be diminished. Without social studies, there is very little reason to learn to read as reading is essential to learning social studies. Curricula may be incorporated so that all subjects are covered. I teach art, but incorporate reading and math in my instruction.

I am increasingly frustrated with the emphasis on high stakes testing (which focus on math, reading, & science) and school "grades" based on test scores. In my state especially in elementary grades... but now creeping into the middle schools as well, social studies has been totally eliminated in favor of extra reading or math time. We wonder why students don't know the name of our vice president, can't find Iraq on a map, or solve disputes without violence?!? Social studies prepares tomorrow's citizens, teaches them tolerance for those different from themselves, and an appreciation of their own heritage. We should be part of the solution of what children need to know, not deleted from the curriculum. It's hard to teach in a discipline thought to be lesser than others. If it's not tested, it doesn't count.

In general, NCLB's increased emphasis on testing to measure school performance has resulted in the implementation of test preparation programs in many schools. When this occurs, teachers must provide extra time for these programs and the time often comes out of content area teaching time, rather than math or literacy, so that it functions as "extra" literacy or math. These programs in the long run, in my opinion are detrimental to the students because the basic core learning and the interesting learning experiences are what are lost. It is especially cruel to students learning English as a second language because they take content area tests in their Native Language or in English, which are supposed to measure their content learning in SS or in Science, since Kindergarten, and often these students have not been in the United States long enough to have been exposed to the content as expressed in a United States education. The result of being subject to test preparation is further loss of learning opportunities, which almost assures academic failure when the tests are used as the sole measure against their promotion.

To BrianO,
I agree with you that math and reading are important basic skills; but you're 'off your rocker' if you really believe your comments about not teaching young people history or any of the social sciences!
For one thing, the teaching of these subjects have deteriorated immensely over the last 20-25 years; young adults today of voting age have close to no idea about this aspect of our country; there are many of them that don't even bother TO VOTE. They don't know who their elected representatives are for the most part, even. Our great nation was meant to be a 'democracy', but it's becoming further and further away from that as we (who are REALLY the government)sit back and let the legislators we elected, carry on however they want in Washington. In the most basic of connotations, THEY ARE OUR SERVANTS and as our servants we are suppose to be telling them what to do; but most citizens today DON'T! Why, because they don't know almost anything about our political process; it wasn't taught to them when they were school. How else are potential adult citizens suppose to become successfull individuals leading their own lives under these circumstances? THEY CAN'T! We have a job as citizens of the greatest country in the world to take an active part in the politics of government that impact heavily on our lives!.
I'm betting if you were to take a survey of the American citizen, voting age or not, you'd find that 'less than half', probably only about one-third could honestly said that they've ever read the Constitution; many of today's citizens don't know anything about the 'Bill of Rights', except that it's the first 10 amendments; beyond that they couldn't tell you what they are or their purpose, with the exception of #4 and maybe, just maybe #1; and even there all you would probably get from them was 'their right to freedom of speech'.
However, this lack of history teaching is not just an oversight; it is a very well planned and executied manuver by the 'elite' of past years (and today) to do just what it's doing, now. Create a citizendry of 'sheep and worker bees', who will 'take orders' without question and work hard to keep the political machine and it's members fat, lazy and rich. If things don't change and Americans don't 'wise up'were going to be a society of people,just like the illegal alliens coming here, ready willing and able to be exploited by the American entrpreneurs in the workplace.
The 'elite' doesn't want students to 'study history' because they don't want to give up their power and control, they have over us.
As I wind this up, let me give you one thought to 'think about'; in future years, how do you think the history text books of our grate,grate grandchildren are going to talk about Bush's 'War in Iraq"? Do you think they will even mention about Bush's claim about WMDs, Hell no; but if they do it'll be some 'spin story' about how the American military 'found them all', got rid of them and 'saved the Iraqi people from death and destruction'.
Pax, Donna

Is social studies separate from reading? What are the students reading?

The problem is not that social studies is being edged out, but the activities traditionally considered social studies served the puruposes of school no longer sanctioned, while the true essentials of the social studies curriculum are either not known well enough to illuminate, or are too complex to measure easily with standardized tests. The hidden curriculum is in fact social studies. Students arrive at their own understanding of how to predict and influence behavior. Social studies include any disciplined effort to understand interaction. Literacy skills are fundamentally social because they involve communication between people, always the basis of interaction and therefore relationships. Therefore, social studies is already addressed by essentialist mandates, but not recognized as such. If a teacher understands the deep structure of the many social studies, there are unlimited teachable moments in the everyday life of schools. Classroom behavior rules are exercises in civics. Maneuvering the halls, sharing lockers, negotiating boundaries and respecting cultural differences is all part of geography. Recounting 'he said / she said' is historical perspective. Playing the game of getting grades is a wonderful simulation of market economy. Why not make these lessons explicit, and in the process improve those systemic conditions that foster distorted understanding.

Social studies, science, and math can be used for reading instruction. Using reading strategies and skills to teach across the curriculum instead of in isolation actually saves time. No, there isn't time to cover all content areas "individually," and that's a good thing because students need to experience the connections. And let's not forget that we, as adults, forget that students don't necessarily see the interconnection unless it is pointed out.

Let us not forget the the purpose of common schools is to educate CITIZENS, not workers. My tax dollars should go to schools that teach children ALL they need to know in order to accept the rights and fulfill the responsibilites that our great nation gives and expects from them. If you want your child to be a good worker send them to the General Motors school. I want our children to be engaged citizens who understand how their country works, why it works and recognize when it doesn't. Reading, writing and 'rithmetic are the foundation of any education-religious, vocational or civic.Democracy functions bests when it's citizens are able to think freely- hence the importance of the classical idea of the liberal arts education. This is the tradition in which our common schools should be educating our youngest citizens. Anything else leads to citizens that are functionally illiterate, who do not understand who WE are as a nation, and who think that the president should solve every problem, yet don't even know the name of their city council person. Vocational schools and vocational schools disguised as universities abound. An 18 year old has plenty of time to learn what they need to learn to get a job. Learning to have an open mind that thinks critically and understands our various civic duties needs to happen before one is allowed to vote.

Recently, Bill Gates told the governors that U.S. high schools need to be revolutionized so that America can supply its needed workforce in the 21st century. Social Studies Curriculum would benefit from being transformed into a humanities curriculum, where students study art, music, literature, religion, history etc. as one "mega-picture", requiring complimentary readings, writings, research, cultural and historical studies. Use of technology to organize, analyize and present positions, pursuasive treatises, and narrations should be the expected venue - not a course but a upgrade from paper and pen. We need to eliminate ENGLISH CLASS where the reading and writing assignments are insulated from the real world and instead infuse the humanities with reading and writing, now taught in English Class. This new paradigm will have students engaged in the process of true learning, rather than only completeing disparite tasks, which seem to have no practical or interrelated use. Math and science ALONE do not foster cooperation and peaceful coexistence. Yes. We need jobs. And yes, we need a new design for high schools that will lead to more civic engagement and inclusion in our global village.

MF- you are dead wrong. Not only do we prepare citizens, we also prepare workers and prepare them for continued learning in formal and informal settings. Being a citizen is not separate from being an owner, a worker, a student or teacher. We all fill multiple roles in our lives and like our multiple nature of being, social studies looks at those multiple aspects of the world around us. Civics and history are not the sole nature of the social studies, it incorporates many aspects of study. It is in looking at all these aspects of life that the student can begin to link content with application. Reading and writing are the tools we use to facilitate this so that we can create future citizens, workers and life long learners. Social studies gives the students a means of application for the content knowledge that is built in the core areas. Therefore, contrary to Brian O’s opinion of social studies being an artificial subject, it is the only area that truly incorporates all aspects of learning.

Although many schools have eliminated social studies to teach reading and/or math I think they have done a disservice to our children. Americans should have a strong knowledge of their country, its geography, and its laws. They will be the people who will run our country and they should do it from a basis of knowledge.
You do not have to do away with content area subjects to teach reading, as a matter of fact it is often better to teach reading skills using content material. Students have difficulty in the higher grades reading and understanding science, history and mathematics word problems. If they were taught how to read these materials by experienced reading teachers or teachers who know how to guide students in understanding content area texts they would be more successful on the dreaded NCLB testing as well as in their every day life.
We have to stop compartmentalizing everything in education. We must model what they will encounter in their lives. Students will benefit if they see that the skills and strategies learned in the reading class work with the history book. Every time they encounter a difficult text or unknown words they will be able to fall back on skills to interpret the meaning on more than a literal level. They then can use these strategies to read the newspaper, to read technical manuals, to read instructions, to read directions, etc.

Scott- Social Studies teacher, Please tell me besides civics and history what is it that modern social studies teaches. I graduated from High School in'92 and that was what it was. You mentioned other aspects but you did not specify what they are. Of course human beings are multidemensional hence my assertion of the need for classical liberal arts education, but my point is that the expectations of a public K-12education versus a private one are to educate children to function as informed, responsible citizens within a democracy. My tax dollars should go toward strenthening the foundation of a well-functioning democracy. Of course people are workers, but educating a worker and a citizen require different philosophies. Workers don't argue-unless they are educated citizens. I'm not against social studies I'm against schools that graduate illiterates, who can't read the New York Times, or a map.

Oh I forgot to add- I dare Scott, the social studies teacher, to ask one of his students what the difference is between a state, a county and a municipality. Not one of my social studies teachers ever taught me.

MF- it’s too bad your social studies education was so lacking, reading articles from the New York Times, Barons, Washington Times and others were used extensively in my classroom. I taught economics and discussions of the political system on national, state and local issues were just part of the daily routine as were writing assignments in response to these issues on a regular basis. Just so you will know, the social studies also incorporates the fields of geography(maps are used here), anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, political science, and history. The issue of spending time exploring the differences between municipal, state and national government is a function of the standards that the state requires in relationship to the amount of time we have to teach(this would be scarcity from economics) and not a function of the irrelevancy of the field of study. When we give students work to accomplish or problems to solve we are teaching/training them to function within the work environment and be productive employees. What good is a democracy full of informed citizens if none of them are employed nor employable. You call for a liberal arts approach to education but you fail to recognize the value of a broad based education in favor of a limited approach to learning which is precisely what the original question asks. Is the emphasis on reading and math squeezing social studies out of the curriculum? Your limited experience in the area of social studies clearly demonstrates that it is.

Okay Scott, I'm totally wrong. After all anthropology and sociology etc. do not constitute the liberal arts. Thank You for enlightening me. I will be home schooling now or maybe I'll try Montessori- especially since I don't agree with all this standardized testing. By the way I'm all for vocational education as long as it's post tenth grade and post a classical liberal arts educational foundation and subsidized by corporations.

Anyway we shouldn't care about NCLB because the federal government has no business telling States how to educate Kids. CHeck the Constitution, that's if you ever had a chance to read the whole thing in school or out of . Mr. Bush is just planting the seeds to destroy public education and hence our democracy. But who cares, as long as we have jobs. Bye Bye democracy.

Okay Scott, I'm totally wrong. After all anthropology and sociology etc. do not constitute the liberal arts. Thank You for enlightening me. I will be home schooling now or maybe I'll try Montessori- especially since I don't agree with all this standardized testing. By the way I'm all for vocational education as long as it's post tenth grade and post a classical liberal arts educational foundation and subsidized by corporations.

Anyway we shouldn't care about NCLB because the federal government has no business telling States how to educate Kids. CHeck the Constitution, that's if you ever had a chance to read the whole thing in school or out of . Mr. Bush is just planting the seeds to destroy public education and hence our democracy. But who cares, as long as we have jobs and reality TV. Bye Bye democracy.

I have found it increasingly difficult over the years to teach SS well. In fact, with the emphasis in our state on Science, Math, and Reading, SS is often used only when we have time. I also feel that in elementary school the focus should be on developing the skills in Math and Reading that will assist the students in their later years. With that said, I also realize how important history is and how it impacts current events.

This year I have tried a new approach because I feel that knowing US history is so important. I've worked SS content into reading, listening, drama, and music. My students wrote an opera (losely) based on Utah's SS core. We read historical realistic fiction both as a class and as individual students. We also re-enacted the Stamp Act, First Continental, and Second Continental Congresses. These activities fit in not only with SS, but across the curriculum. My students were able to develop a greater sense of patriotism while improving in Reading.

I am a fourth grade teacher and social studies chair for my school. We have recently been given new schedules, which only allow for 35 minutes of social studies instruction for 3 weeks every six weeks and 3 weeks of science instruction (also for 35 minutes). We are mandated by our principal to teach 2 1/2 hours of language arts/reading daily and 1 1/2 hours of math. This leaves 35 minutes daily for science and social studies. We are not allowed to teach reading in the content areas, as we have to level our reading instruction, with each child reading on his/her individual reading level. Our children and adults in this country are already woefully ignorant of history and government, and with this trend, that is only going to become worse. Once children learn how to read, they should learn the purposes of reading - enjoyment and gaining knowledge. Instead, at my school we are teaching reading skills with no purpose to the reading other than improving standardized test scores. It saddens me that knowledge is being reduced to numbers on a test.

I have noticed a lack of knowledge base in the high school students that I instruct. Social studies and science have both been put on the back burner to more reading, writing, and math. What happened to the days when students attended 6 or 7 classes daily. They learned a range of subjects. Accelerated Reading, while its original purpose was good, has been thrust to the forefront. I have noticed more and more children, who once loved to read, only reading because they have to and because their grade depends on it. Many have told me that they no longer want to open a book at all. Science and social studies alternate a classtime every 2 weeks in our system. By the time children get interested in an area that they are learning, it's time to go to the other subject. It is sad what our education system has become. A test has become more important that our students and what they may become one day.

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