Can social studies break into STEM?

March 20th, 2013

Over at her blog for Education Week, “Teacher in a Strange Land,” Nancy Flanagan—a 30-year classroom veteran and education writer—notes that the newer acronyms evolving from STEM (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to include the arts (STEAM) or, as one her friends has suggested, reading (STREAM) still leave out an important part of a student’s education: Social Studies. “If the process of becoming educated—the competencies necessary to live as a productive, even successful human being—were organized into four equal ‘core’ categories, it’s hard to see how you could pack all essential human understandings into one quartile division, called ‘social studies,’” she writes. “Can you be a thriving American citizen without some knowledge of the law, political models, cultural norms, human relationships and the revolutionary formation of our nation? Isn’t that at least as important as a working affiliation with algebra?”

Flanagan continues:

Curriculum does change over time. Wade around in the Committee of Ten Report from 1893, when Latin and Greek were the preeminent subjects and higher mathematics an afterthought, if you want to see how our definition of essential content has shifted. Then take a look at The 13 Most Useless Majors, from Philosophy to Journalism and see what’s being valued these days—the enlargement of human understanding vs. comparison of starting salaries. No contest.

It is possible to construe this lack of interest in social studies and humanities as a dark and deliberate goal: If we don’t teach our children democratic values, appreciation of individual worth and dignity, or the essential importance of building community—well, then there will never be a revolution against power and resource hoarding. Let them eat tests.

A less intentional—but still sinister—reason might be the fact that as a nation, we still have no clue, let alone consensus, about the purpose of public education. Is it building democratic equality? Job training? Credential collecting?

Until we have that straight, there is unlikely to be a backlash against quantification and standardization. I don’t foresee Rupert Murdoch funding a campaign to restore civic education. It’s ironic that Arne Duncan calls education the civil rights issue of our generation in a time when elementary teachers don’t “have time” to study civil rights.

Social studies. Don’t leave school without ’em.

Read the whole thing.

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