Call me crazy, an imbecile, a reactionary even…but shouldn’t a democratic society require its youngest citizens to learn the basic history, culture, politics and government of its own democracy?
According to the New York State Board of Regents, social studies is entirely unnecessary in the education of the modern American student.
Last summer, I began a letter-writing campaign to the Board of Regents in order to save the 5th and 8th grade state social studies tests. Dr. Jon King, head of P-12 Education at the NYS Education Department, was kind enough to fill me in on the details why, and especially to sympathize with our plight, as a former social studies teacher himself. Kudos to you, sir.
Now, it seems that the state wants to devise a system where social studies is not only eradicated from elementary education as a separate subject, but also from secondary education as well. According to Professor Alan Singer’s important post in today’s Huffington Post, the State is considering making the global studies and US History Regents exams NOT mandatory, even going so far as to charge districts for even administering them.
Furthermore, these exams would be part of an elective basket of exams high schoolers could pick and choose at will. A high school student could graduate with no social studies instruction at all.
And at the elementary schools? Well, in their smarmy talk, the Regents feels that the new Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics would also incorporate science and social studies into them, thereby eradicating them as separate subjects.
Why is this happening? Apart from the constant budget woes, the federal mandate gives no pass-fail requirements for social studies. If it isn’t tested, it isn’t taught–how many times do we have to repeat this?
New York used to be at the vanguard of education, but according to Steve Goldberg, president of the National Council for the Social Studies, a meeting with the Board of Regents was summed up by the following:
“After two hours of rhetoric by the regents and passionate, frustrated responses by the attendees, I reached the conclusion that New York, once a model for state wide social studies programs and assessments, had indeed plummeted and has joined the growing number of states where elementary social studies has been marginalized.”
New York joins other states that are not only negligent in their pursuit of a quality education for students, but traitorous in their move to deprive young people of the tools to become active citizens in their democracy.
What New York State is doing is nothing less than high treason.
It is CRIMINAL and TREASONOUS to allow our young people to go through education completely ignorant of not only their history, but the government that they will be a part of. When a government is “of the people, by the people and for the people”, it cannot work if the people are left in the dark about their government form and function.
Join the NCSS as well as the local bodies fighting for academic justice, the New York State Council for the Social Studies and the Long Island Council for the Social Studies. Let them know, and Washington as well, their actions not only deprive children of a quality education, but deprive our democracy of its most precious asset–informed citizens.
Here are the Regents’ contact information:
2016* Tisch, Merryl H.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Chancellor; At Large
Regents Office, 89 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12234
Phone: (518) 474-5889 Email: RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov
2012* Cofield, Milton L.; B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D.
Vice Chancellor; Judicial District VII – Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates
98 Hickory Ridge Road, Rochester, N.Y. 14625
Phone (585) 200-6284 Email: RegentCofield@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Bennett, Robert M.; B.A., M.S.
Chancellor Emeritus; Judicial District VIII — Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming
201 Millwood Lane, Tonawanda, NY 14150
Phone: (716) 645-1344 Email: RegentBennett@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Dawson, James C.; A.A, B.A., M.S., Ph.D.
Judicial District IV — Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington
166 U.S. Oval, Plattsburgh, NY 12903
Phone: (518) 324-2401 Email: RegentDawson@mail.nysed.gov
2016* Bottar, Anthony S.; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District V — Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, and Oswego
120 Madison Street, Suite 1600, AXA Tower II, Syracuse, NY 13202
Phone: (315) 422-3466 Email: RegentBottar@mail.nysed.gov
2013* Chapey, Geraldine, D.; B.A., M.A., Ed.D.
Judicial District XI — Queens
107-10 Shore Front Parkway, Apt. 9C, Belle Harbor, NY 11694
Phone: (718) 634-8471 Email: RegentChapey@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Phillips 3rd, Harry; B.A., M.S.F.S.
Judicial District IX — Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester
71 Hawthorne Way, Hartsdale, NY 10530
Phone: (914) 948-2228 Email: RegentPhillips@mail.nysed.gov
2012* Tallon, Jr., James R. ; B.A., M.A.
Judicial District VI – Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins
United Hospital Fund, Empire State Building, 1411 Broadway, 12th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018
Phone (212) 494-0777 Email: RegentTallon@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Tilles, Roger; B.A., J.D.
Judicial District X – Nassau, Suffolk
100 Crossways Park West, Suite 107, Woodbury, N.Y. 11797
Phone (516) 364-2533 Email: RegentTilles@mail.nysed.gov
2012* Bendit, Charles R.; B.A.
Judicial District I – New York
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1500, New York, N.Y. 10011
Phone (212) 220-9945 Email: RegentBendit@mail.nysed.gov
2013* Rosa, Betty A., B.A., M.S. in Ed., M.S. in Ed., M.Ed., Ed.D.
Judicial District XII – Bronx
Chambreleng Hall, Fordham University, 441 East Fordham Road, Bronx, N.Y. 10458
Phone (718) 817-5053 Email: RegentRosa@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Young, Jr., Lester W., B.S., M.S., Ed.D.
55 Hanson Place, Suite 400, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217
Phone (718) 722-2796 Email: RegentYoung@mail.nysed.gov
2014* Cea, Christine D., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
Judicial District XIII – Richmond
NYS Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities
1050 Forest Hill Road, Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone (718) 494-5306 Email: RegentCea@mail.nysed.gov
2014* Norwood, Wade S., B.A.
74 Appleton Street, Rochester, NY 14611
Phone (585) 436-2944 Email: RegentNorwood@mail.nysed.gov
2014* Jackson, James O., B.S., M.A., Ph.D.
Judicial District III – Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster
238 Lenox Avenue, Albany, NY 12208
Phone (909) 233-8881 Email: RegentJackson@mail.nysed.gov
2015* Cashin, Kathleen M., B.S., M.S., Ed.D.
Judicial District II – Kings
Regents Office, 89 Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12234
Phone (518) 474-5889 Email: RegentCashin@mail.nysed.gov
2014*Cottrell, James E. B.S., M.D.
SUNY Downstate Medical Center, 450 Clarkson Avenue, Box 6, Brooklyn, NY 11203-2098
Phone (718) 270-2331 Email: RegentCottrell@mail.nysed.gov
Arne Duncan’s Double-Talk on Social Studies and NCLB
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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:
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.
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