DANGERS OF ELIMINATING SOCIAL STUDIES IN TEX. SCHOOLS

Apr 22, 2013 by

donna_garner

 

[Comment from Donna Garner:  If HB 5 is allowed to pass as written, this 83rd Legislative Session would go down in history as the one that single-handedly destroyed 10 years of progress that Texas has made in implementing new-and-improved standards (Type #1 TEKS), tests (Type #1 STAAR/End-of-Course tests), and rigorous graduation requirements (4 x 4) for the vast majority of Texas high-school graduates.  Why would any Texas Legislator want to be responsible to leave behind a legacy of dragging Texas’ colleges, universities, and workforce down for many years to come?]

 

 

“The Little Discussed Dangers of Eliminating Social Studies in Texas Schools”
by Pat Hardy, Member, State Board of Education

4.15.13

 

Of all the subjects to which our students are exposed, arguably the most significant to their intellectual performance in life is the collection of courses we call social studies.  These courses include civics, history, geography, and economics.  They are the courses where problem-solving, critical thinking, written and spoken expression, civic duty and an awareness of the world and its governments are learned.

 

At a time in our world when dynamic shifts are taking place in the global economy, politics, and government, one would think courses in social studies would be highly valued and promoted in our public schools.  However, an alarming trend is taking place that deserves all of our attention.

 

For twenty years, Texas has been a leader in the promotion of social studies courses.  Due to strong social studies educators, strong executive and legislative leadership, and support from the State Board of Education, social studies has maintained its well-deserved high profile and has been an integral part of the required curriculum for graduation, as well as a significant portion of our state’s accountability system. In other words, kids are currently tested on these subjects.

 

If passed, HB 5 [Rep. Aycock] would change all of this.

 

While everyone understands that HB 5 reflects a backlash against rigorous testing, few realize that the social studies are being marginalized in the process. If passed, the bill would no longer require students to take both world history and world geography, and would eliminate both end-of-course exams; effectively canceling two-thirds of the social studies accountability program in a single stroke. What is both puzzling and troubling is the apparent lack of recognition by the legislature of the critical role that world history and world geography play in developing a strong, well-rounded Texans.

 

What students learn in world geography and world history are concepts and relationships that almost everyone agrees they should know. Students with diverse backgrounds, in particular, need an understanding of social studies to participate as full citizens in the democratic process. Preparing these future citizens with a rigorous social studies program is one of the state’s greatest responsibilities.

 

Students especially need to understand where America is situated in relationship to the rest of the world in order to appreciate American achievements and to cope with the challenges of globalization ahead. If Texas is to continue to prosper, newcomers and native Texans alike need to understand the culture and history of the state. Young Texans of all backgrounds must understand the other cultures around the globe with which they will be coming into contact in the years ahead.

 

With their global partners, future Texans will have to tackle the challenges of economic competition, resource allocation, terrorism, international conflict, and curing disease. It is in the social studies classroom, furthermore, that students learn how our institutions and beliefs have developed, how to cooperate with others, how to research and analyze information, and most of all, how to think critically and make informed decisions.

 

Students who take these courses are better prepared for college, careers, and ultimately are better equipped to complete in a global economy.

 

As recently stated in a Wall Street Journal column on proposed changes to Texas social studies requirements:  “The challenge for those who want to eliminate testing in world history and geography or other subjects in Texas is to explain how students are prepared for a global economy when they are not required to learn anything about either the globe or the economy.”

 

In preparing future citizens, Texas legislators must not only understand the world as it is today, but they must also have the vision to think of it one or two generations from now. Is, as HB 5 suggests, learning United States history alone really enough? The majority of Texas students—future voters—will never take another class in either world history or world geography. Should they be permitted—and in some cases be compelled by districts with limited resources—to choose just one of these important subjects?

 

Eliminating the corresponding tests will surely reduce the flow of district funds to these subjects. This fact will effectively deny significant populations the opportunity to participate fully in the American dream. Without hope of a better future, the state will splinter into distinct populations lacking in empathy or understanding for one another.

 

So why, one might ask, would the legislature make such drastic changes to the treatment of these subjects in such short order?  I suspect that the bright light of the anti-testing movement has blinded them to the damage being inflicted upon social studies. Because most current legislators view student assessments simply as indicators of educational progress, they do not see that the results of student assessments can provide critical information for decision-making in education policy and practice.

 

 

In addition, they have overlooked the important fact that what is being assessed becomes a means to communicate goals and priorities to students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders in education. In fact, at the core of the anti-testing movement is the realization that the state has failed to use assessment as a lever for constructive educational reform. Instead, the tests have been used to punish students and teachers. Clearly, parents have had enough of punitive accountability. Perhaps the nature of Texas’ accountability system should be examined, but not at the expense of social studies.

 

This is one of those rare times when the legislature is poised to make a decision that, if successful, will significantly alter what Texas children will learn – what tools they will have in their toolbox – as they head out into the world, whether that be college or the workforce.

 

It is true that the 21st Century world demands a great deal from our students.  Nowhere is this more true than in the area of civic responsibility, competent citizenship and world awareness. Future generations of Texans deserve to be competitive global citizens. It would be unforgivable to allow the social studies to be eliminated as collateral damage in a war against testing.

 

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