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Videos for the Classroom: What is Social Studies?

It’s been a while, I know.   The added burden of teaching ELA has placed an undue strain on my time.  In the meantime, I found this neat video on the definition of social studies.  It’s kinda lame at first, but it gets better as it goes on…and the instrumental of “Welcome to the Jungle” doesn’t hurt either.

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This Day in History 10/1: The first Tonight Show appearance of Johnny Carson

I don’t usually watch late night television…and mostly because Johnny Carson isn’t a part of it.

On October 1, 1962, temporary host Groucho Marx introduced the new permanent host of NBC’s Tonight Show, a shy midwesterner named Johnny Carson.  For the next 30 years, Carson ruled late night as his own personal empire, and in my opinion, was the greatest late-night host of all time.

Looking back at old Tonight Show episodes, you can see not only how good he was, but how incredibly dumb today’s late-night hosts have become.  Carson was crude, dirty and lewd without uttering a word.  His very mannerisms could cause a filthy snicker.  Carson also had a knack for letting the guests shine, inserting himself only to help the guest or as an affable comic foil.

Most importantly, the guy was cool.  He was real, real cool.  Even with among the most controversial intellectuals of the twentieth century, he was cool.

I attached the first appearance of Ayn Rand on the Tonight Show in 1967.  Rand was invited back two more times to the show.  It’s basically a conversation between Carson and Rand on objectivism, capitalism, rationality…even Ed McMahon joins the conversation.

Forget about your own opinions on Rand: I’m mixed on her, to be honest.  Just name one show on late night today that would have such an intellectual conversation for over 20 minutes of airtime.

…and we wonder why our kids can’t think critically.

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Bring Back Social Studies – From the Pages of The Atlantic

President Bush signing the bipartisan No Child...

The beginning of the end: President Bush signing NCLB at Hamilton H.S. in Hamilton, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if you’ve said it a thousand times, it doesn’t hurt to say it again.

Mr. D’s much more industrious little sister, Dr. D (yep, she finished that doctorate!) drew my attention to this recent article from The Atlantic.  The article advocates stopping the current trend towards neutering social studies as a distinct discipline in American education.

While the article itself breaks no new ground, it encapsulates the history and status of the issue well so that newbies to the struggle get an eye opener–whilst the veterans get a refresher course in the shitstorm that is No Child Left Behind.

Jen Kalaidis opens with the decline of student time spent studying social studies, to a whopping 7.6 percent.  More importantly, she details the history of this decline–and contrary to popular belief, it didn’t happen in the Cold War.

Kalaidis does mention the 1957 Sputnik launch as a “Pearl Harbor” moment in American education.  From that point on, millions of dollars poured into math and science programs to keep up the space race against the Commies.  Yet to assume education was a zero-sum game at the time would be false: social studies did maintain its status through the Cold War, in fact peaking in 1993-1994 at 3 hours per week on average in US classrooms.

The reasoning is simple: the Cold War was more than just a technological race.  It was a battle of ethics and morals, of hearts and minds.  Social studies was at the center of that struggle, for better or worse.  At its worst, social studies channeled jingoistic American patriotism into half-truths and propaganda.  At its best, social studies provided the historical foundations, civic structure and critical analysis that helped shape a better America–one that could hopefully achieve that moral high ground against the Soviets.

The real decline came with No Child Left Behind–and here is where the article gets mundane.

To old-timers of the education wars, Kalaidis’ retread of the decline of social studies–the sacrifical lamb at the altar of Common Core, ELA, and STEM–is an old argument shouted out in hundreds of teacher lounges, conferences and workshops across the country.  The emphasis on reading, math and science pushed social studies to a secondary discipline–one that was often not subject to standardized testing.  If you couldn’t use a number 2 pencil, it wasn’t worth knowing.

We also all know how important it is to develop critical thinking and analysis skills, something social studies was designed for.  If taught well, social studies makes students take ownership of history, of civics and economics, leading them to their own ideas, conclusions and opportunities.

One aspect of this decline that Kalaidis did mention–and should be mentioned more–is the “civic achievement gap.”  The lack of civic education has created an underclass not only ignorant of their own government, but wholly unable or unwilling to vote, to participate in local politics or pursue careers in public service.   As much as we rag on the government, we need one–a competent one–and that involves competent people working in all levels.  To ignore the civic gap in low-income Americans is tantamount to disenfranchising them.

Lastly, Kalaidis does mention steps to move social studies back to the forefront.  Obama has decried the lack of civic education in NCLB.  So has Arne Duncan in a half-hearted article in the NCSS journal in 2011 (I ripped him a new one about it).  Yet most of this is lip service, or that dreaded word integration (as in subject integration, not race).

The reality is that there is no concrete move to make social studies important again in American schools.  And I hate to admit it–but the conspiracist in me thinks the decline of social studies is deliberate.

When the lunatics run the asylum, they make sure no one figures out they’re really lunatics.  Without proper social studies education, there’s no way to tell the difference.

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