Dear Secretary Duncan: Stop the Rape of Social Studies in America

Dear Secretary Duncan:

(We’re not that formal here in the Neighborhood…is Arne okay?)

You may not know us, Arne, but we do know you.

We know how your corporate mentality, go-get’em attitude and boardroom smile have wowed the spastic, slightly deranged menagerie known as the education establishment.

The goofy minions at Teach for America, the boys who started those KIPP academies, the slack-jawed tweed-types at Teachers’ College all fell for your spell. Lucy Calkins must’ve soiled herself at the sight of you.

We know how as Secretary of Education, you’ve basically continued the half-brained policies of a certain Gentlemen’s C student that we need not mention.  Never mind that those policies have little theoretical or analytical basis, are unrealistic and create a permanent underclass—you’ve got to follow through, just like your jump shots in the vaunted Australian basketball league.

We also know that you’ve got a real hard-on for charter schools (I’m sorry, this is an education blog, we mean “erection”).  We don’t blame you—with little oversight, little control over curriculum and pedagogy, no kids with “special needs”  and no pesky unions to push adequate wages and whatnot, it’s practically a CEO job.  Just give “empowering” goals and let the rest run itself.  That certainly has worked in the past, right?

And speaking of goals, we also know how much you love that buzzword of the moment, “accountability.”  In your world, Arne, that means standardized tests and oodles of data.  Charts now show trends for every stage in a child’s development, in any subject, at any time of day.  Have enough kids fart in the wind or give swirlies to a fat kid in the boys’ room, and you better believe there’ll be documentation on it.   Of course, the teacher’s always to blame.

Finally, we know all about the Race to the Top.  We have to admit, it’s one heck of a devious plot there, Arne.  Only the truly misanthropic and soulless would devise a remake of Glengarry Glen Ross (the movie, not the play) where everyone is Levene and Ricky Roma is already on the board of directors.   So who gets the steak knives?  Does Mississippi get fired?

Yes, Arne, we know a whole hell of a lot about you…but we’re not bastards.  We’re willing to forgive.

In fact, we’re willing to turn the other way on a lot of this, and believe me; it’ll take a lot of effort to do so.

Just as long as you can help us with one little problem.

Arne, stop the systematic rape and persecution of social studies in this country.

I’m guessing you’re like so many of the twits of our educational universe that see social studies—history, geography, government, economics—as subjects best left for secondary school, or best, college where kids with “special needs” won’t have to worry about it.

Social studies is usually the first to be cut, the least of resources, the most crunched in terms of time—and most importantly, the least assessed.

Bet that last one got your attention, Arne, didn’t it.

Yes, social studies does not get the rigorous attention the other “better” subjects get when it comes to the old #2 pencil and scan-tron sheet.  In New York, until recently, there’s only been one state test in 5th grade, then one in 8th grade.  Even these can’t adequately prepare students for the exams in high school.

Now, thanks to our unelected New York Board of Regents, we cannot even administer those last two tests, either.

The Board of Regents voted to cancel testing in social studies in grades 5 and 8 as a cost-saving measure.  We won’t go into the details (you’re a busy man, gutting our public schools and whatnot) except that they saw this as the only alternative to saving testing in the “better” subjects.  Similar votes are probably being conducted in other states as well.

Normally, this would be a state problem, and we wouldn’t be bothering you or cutting into your goofy smiling time.  Yet the Board’s recent action doesn’t jive with a certain application for Phase II funds from a certain contest you’re running.

According to page 106 of New York’s RTTT Phase II application submitted earlier this month, it states that

“New York collects yearly test records of individual students under section 1111(b) of the ESEA [20 U.S.C. 6311(b)] program in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as scores obtained on New York’s secondary-level Regents examinations (see Appendix C_1_2).”

How on Earth does this fit into the Board of Regents’ recent actions?  There’s only one response—they lied to you, Arne.  Because of these cuts in testing, New York State is no longer compliant under the ESEA.  We brought this up in an e-mail to your man James Butler, who’s the point person for RTTT, yet it seems to fall on deaf ears.

Here’s where you can help.

New York was recently named a finalist for Race to the Top.  Great.  We know you also have a bit of a stiffie over New York’s largest city, also named New York.  You love our Oompa-Loompa-like mayor that acts without any thought of popular opinion, and our Nosferatu-esque schools chancellor that dutifully administers policy and takes blame for its failures.

You wouldn’t want them to cut “better” subjects to the kiddies due to lack of funds, would you, Arne?

We think you should really look over New York’s application in this final round.  If New York is to be awarded this grant, it should be on the condition that ALL testing in ALL subjects be restored as soon as possible, preferably by the next school year.  Remember, Arne, that New York is not compliant anymore—hold their ass to the fire because of it.

They lied to you, buddy.  Don’t take that crap lying down.

Besides, pushing for more testing is a win-win for everybody.  You get the data you need to show our kids “progressing”, based on whatever formula your cellar-dwellers devise.  Social studies gets a fair share of time and resources once the fear of assessment is brought back.  Students will learn about their country and its great history—even if it kills them.

Finally, Arne, this action will stop the progressive dumbing-down of our students in terms of their own history , geography and government.  Social studies needs a prominent place at the table of education; don’t relegate it to the kiddie table.

We’ll even sweeten the deal for you.  We’ll get you a cup of coffee—whatever size, whatever blend—on us.

But this comes only after you help restore social studies testing.  After all, coffee is for closers.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Mr. D and the rest of the folks at Mr. D’s Neighborhood

1 Comment

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One response to “Dear Secretary Duncan: Stop the Rape of Social Studies in America

  1. Pingback: A Letter to Secretary Arne Duncan Re: the 2010 NAEP Civics Report Card | Mr. D’s Neighborhood

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