on the character of Social Studies in the US

For the BookTV program featured in the post right before this one, I also posted a notice to the TRSE email list, maintained by CUFA (the College and University Faculty Assembly), which is associated with the NCSS. When I post such things to that list, I usually get private emails from CUFA members thanking me for the information, and sometimes urging me to post more often like I was doing a few years ago. I also get a smattering of complaints from people who don’t appreciate my posts, so this last message included a note that CUFA might want to consider information & discussion channels that could be used by people who want the information, without bothering those who do not.

CUFA has lost the participation of extremely valuable members (e.g., Gloria Ladson-Billings) who have concluded that there are communities within which their participation would be more effective.

For my part, I am shifting my engagement to the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies (AAACS). Please email me if you would like to get the CALL FOR PROPOSALS for the next AAACS meeting, in Chicago the weekend before AERA (twhitson@udel.edu).

I do want to share an observation, though, on the character of Social Studies in the US.

When I entered the profession, I was working on issues of curriculum censorship and constitutional law (see

http://www.amazon.com/Constitution-Curriculum-Hermeneutical-Controversies-Perspectives/dp/1850003378/ )

At that time, I participated in sessions on intellectual freedom and censorship at meetings of the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and the IRA (International Reading Asssociation) on censorship of school curriculum. This was before the retirement of the illustrious Social Studies professor Jack Nelson, one of the premier advocates of intellectual freedom both in schools and in universities.

I remember, very graphically, CUFA business meetings in which Jack Nelson spoke for intellectual freedom, but with CUFA membership reactions on the order of “eye-rolling”.

Jack used to organize NCSS sessions on intellectual freedom; but attendance was sparce. Since I had been involved in NCTE and IRA sessions that were much better attended, I was in a position to comment on the question: Why is it that social studies teachers and professors don’t care about this [enough to attend, that is] compared with professionals in Reading or in English/Language Arts?

This is one observation that I had to offer:

Teachers or Professors in English and English literature are committed to helping students attain the competence to participate in the world of English literature (i.e., reading real English literature and the critical literature on English lit). In social studies, however, students read textbooks with anonymous passages about social reality, rather than the origiinal texts of social reality itself.

Teachers of English, and professors of English education, would think it absolutely hideous to propose that instead of reading Mark Twain (for example), students should read textbooks with a section in a chapter that would tell them what they need to know about Mark Twain.

I think this is a real difference between Social Studies and other school subjects. What do you think?


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