I don’t know if it was Sabrina’s shaming or my call to Homeland Security, but Arne Duncan just wrote about (gasp!) social studies.
Our bud, the Secretary of Education, wrote an article in the recent May/June 2011 issue of Social Education extolling the essential role of social studies in the classroom. Other present and past presidents of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), of which I am a member, also commented on Arne’s writing.
We all tend to be in agreement: Even though he seems well meaning, Arne has a bad tendency to cry alligator tears and blame everyone but himself.
He begins by acknowledging what we have been screaming about for years: that No Child Left Behind has created an environment where English, mathematics and science were given massive emphasis at the expense of history, geography, government and other social sciences. Yet even this admission is half-hearted. A particularly galling statement begins thus:
“Principals, particularly those at elementary schools, tell me that though they would like to allow ample time for social studies education, they feel constrained by pressures to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). By sacrificing civics, economics, and history, these leaders have felt forced to neglect the long-term benefits of a well-rounded education, instead allowing less important, short-term goals to take over.”
Instead of a mea culpa for the narrow AYP standards, he blames administrators and districts for not allowing enough time—all the while pushing these same districts to standards that require all of their time (and then some). Apparently the AYP is such a sacred cow that any attempt to corral it is seen as a trip to the NEA/AFT slaughterhouse.
Furthermore, his praise of social studies is clearly tongue-in-cheek. While pushing for social studies to be elevated to its rightful place as an essential subject, he still harps on the importance of reading and math. Arne does this for almost a paragraph before he finally declares that marginalizing social studies “is not only misguided, it is educational neglect.”
To me, this is tantamount to thinking about that hot new office assistant at work while having sex with your wife. Sure, it gets the job done—it may even feel pretty good—but deep down, you know what you did was dishonest.
Not only does Arne pass the buck on the problem, but it seems that solutions are also hard to come by. He mentions the need to “fix NCLB so that school leaders do not feel forced to ignore the vital components of a good education.” No specifics.
He stresses President Obama’s plan to focus more on at-risk schools than in micromanaging good schools in the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). No specifics.
New assessments that track for college and career readiness—no specifics.
More allowance for well-balanced curricula for districts—no specifics.
Where Arne does get specific are the very things that get his melon-head so excited: testing and giving teachers more work. He goes ga-ga, as he always does, for data-driven planning that targets strengths and weaknesses, especially with alignment to the Common Core standards in English and Math (kill me now). Yet he still has the nerve to call multiple-choice tests “mediocre” without questioning the data derived from said tests.
So who should fix this mess? According to Arne, we should.
Apparently, the Department of Education has a full plate pulling education dollars from children, creating ridiculous targets, adoring China like Mao in heat, all the while satisfying the needs of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Koch brothers, McGraw-Hill and Pearson like a veteran Thai call girl. There’s just no time to force states and school districts to create rigorous curricula and assessments that measure success in social studies.
Arne is urging us, the social studies teachers, to push local and state governments to create high social studies standards. He wants us to push for data-driven accountability in social studies. He wants us to reform assessments to make them authentic enough to base instruction. He wants us to test kids on a full range of social studies skills and strategies.
We do a lot of this already. We bust our ass creating meaningful and rich curricula and assessments for our children. The problem is the states don’t listen to us—and neither does Arne.
When social studies testing at the elementary level fell to only 10 states, he said nothing.
When social studies standards became a political hot potato in Texas, he said nothing.
When high school tests in New York are threatened with extinction, he said nothing.
A recent House bill threatening to cut 43 educational programs was introduced—including Teaching American History, a grant program that serves as the very incubator of innovation in social studies education that Arne seeks. The Education and the Workforce Committee found “no demonstrated results from the program…” Really. Tell that to the hundreds of students in New York City that benefit from trained TAH teacher-historians. Yet I have not heard a peep from our secretary.
That’s the problem.
Arne Duncan plays lip service to the social studies crowd using tried and true platitudes and pithy remarks. All the while, we see right through his game—to placate us while his dismantling of American education is complete.
If Arne is truly serious about establishing social studies’ rightful place in American education, he should be the one—NOT us—who is pushing the states and districts to make AYP contingent on social studies success, to make meaningful and rich social studies curricula and assessments, to hold schools accountable for success in history, geography, economics, government and social sciences.
We have been advocating this—for years. It is time the Secretary of Education to stop fence-sitting and finally get in the game of saving social studies in America.
Otherwise, his words are as authentic as the assessments he loves.
Why I am Marching in the SOS March in July (other than to sweat my nuts off)
Trust me, the last place you want to be in late July/early August is the District of Columbia.
It’s hot and sticky, with a haze that saps you of your dignity as you drench through layers of clothing. The huge, wide boulevards leave little, if any, shade for comfort. Hilly neighborhoods outside Downtown turn a sidewalk stroll into the Bataan Death March.
And don’t look to the Metro subway system for relief; the genius who laid out the stations made it so that everything’s at least a half-mile from each station—just enough to sweat through your shorts and overpower the trains with the stench of ego mixed with misplaced ambition.
I should know: after years in college, numerous weekends, Fourths of July, and an abominable summer without air conditioning, I pretty much have DC clocked.
Which makes it even crazier that I’m heading there in late July to participate in the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.
My colleagues think I’m nuts. My girlfriend, Future Mrs. D, is convinced I went off the deep end. My parents are convinced I’ll pass out after the first half hour sitting in the sun on the Ellipse.
Despite the naysayers, I’m going. The reasons are numerous: the Declaration of Independence, the need for an educated electorate, the systematic raping of education by pseudo-reformers that care little, if anything, about the future of our democracy.
Yet funny enough, the most important reason is Joe DiMaggio.
When the Yankee Clipper retired after the 1951 season, a Sporting News reporter had asked him the reason why he was hanging it up. DiMaggio could’ve given any number of excuses: his constant pain, the lack of pop in his legs and his bat, the years of hard fielding taking their toll.
Instead, he gave the best response I ever heard, “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game…”
After so many years and all the headaches, baseball became a job. Like Joe D, I’m starting to feel that our game, our sport, the education of American children, is no fun anymore.
Like so many educators who will be in attendance in July, I love—absolutely love—educating children. For me, opening minds to the challenges and achievements of history, government, economics, even exploring maps gives me a rush similar to hitting a home run in Yankee Stadium.
Even with the headaches, the paperwork, the bullshit, teaching was never much of a grind—it was genuinely fun.
However, I can see the handwriting on the wall—words like, “accountability”, “data-driven instruction”, “quality reviews”, “peer assessment” and so on. These things are not terrorizing, per se. Yet when they are applied in a manner that undermines the purpose of American education, these words rob our profession of the joy, the excitement, the fun that it had.
Education is no fun anymore when meaningful debates, projects, skits and the like must be shelved for Dickensian workhouses of test preparation.
Education is no fun anymore when subjects are tossed aside in the curriculum simply because their results can’t be boiled down to numbers that fit into a nice chart or graph.
Education is no fun anymore when the tasks that measure authentic progress—reading, writing and math skills needed for college and beyond—are shunted for half-baked tests that simply measure how children digest the buzzwords du jour.
Education is no fun anymore when teachers must put aside the most challenging and exciting parts of their curriculum, not because they can’t do their job, but simply in fear of their jobs in order to produce higher test scores like widgets in a factory.
Education is no fun anymore when students, teachers, and administrators are left holding the bag while the corporate dunderheads, ed-policy dingdongs, and government hacks get off Scott-free when their latest half-assed silver-bullet theory of achievement falls flat on its face.
Education is no fun anymore when teachers, parents and administrators are set to fighting each other—and among each other—while the ed-reform puppet masters systematically strip public education bare.
Education is no fun when generations of students leave high school ready to do one thing: answer questions on a test.
They will not understand the meaning of why “all men are created equal.”
They will not understand the importance and fragility of our “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
They will not be able to participate in a government that is “instituted among men,” nor will they be able to adequately serve as the “consent of the governed.”
Lastly—and this makes Eli Broad, Gates, and the Koch brothers giddy—these students will not realize it when “any form of government becomes destructive of these ends.” Furthermore, no one would’ve informed them that “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it (government), and to institute a new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
If these people have their way, we will have students that can read, write, do arithmetic, bubble answers and give simple written responses on a test. You may recognize them: the well-scrubbed, scripted and compliant students in places like China and Singapore that these bozos love.
But we will not have thinkers, builders, innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs, activists, artists, writers, intellectuals, or leaders.
We will no longer have the type of people that built this country. We will no longer have the type of people that made our democracy better, stronger and more inclusive through the centuries.
In short, we will no longer have Americans.
Not only is the educrat establishment robbing American education of its fun, but also of its purpose: to create educated, thinking citizens as active members of our republic.
The current attack on education is not simply an attack on public schools, teachers and students. It is an attack on the very essence of America.
That is why I am marching—sweating and uncomfortable, but marching nonetheless. Like the Minutemen of yore, thousands of educators like me will be carrying our voices and bodies as proverbial muskets against the imperial onslaught.
Join me and others at the Ellipse this July 30. Lets make a clear message to President Obama, Arne Duncan and the rest of the “reformers” that American democracy cannot continue without a valuable public education—and their actions undermine our way of life.
Let’s make American public education meaningful, important, purposeful…and fun again.
I’m not ready to hang up my cleats anytime soon—not by a long shot.
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Tagged as Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, Bataan Death March, Civil Rights, Comedy, Commentary, current events, Curriculum, Diane Ravitch, Education, Education in the United States, education reform, Educational leadership, Eli Broad, Humor, Humour, Joe DiMaggio, Leadership, Media, Opinion, Social studies, Standards, Teachers, Teaching, United States, Washington DC