The new social studies often rests on "student-centered instruction" which allows students to be their own learning guides. The starting premise is that students can learn only what is familiar and directly relevant to them. Thus social studies in kindergarten through the third grade teaches students first about family, then local public servants like firemen and policemen. It also holds that members of a racial minority aren't immediately capable of learning about people who are of a different race, so black kids read about the Great Zimbabwe kingdom, not Columbus. This concentric-circle approach leaves students unprepared for serious analysis. But mostly, students find it boring. To combat boredom, teachers use pictures, videos, music and other "hands on" tools to displace reading and writing. We might call it dumbing-down.
All of this serves a larger purpose. Social-studies theorists seek to create social activists. Students need not know the facts to be effective change-agents; they're taught that facts are a matter of opinion. Indeed, they need only believe that they are correct as they reject the tenets of society. The result? Elementary-school lessons that use Thanksgiving to teach that we owe redress to American Indians.
The results have been disastrous. Young Americans are ignorant of history and are increasingly poor citizens (old-fashioned term!). The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who voted fell to 32% in 1996 and 2000, from 50% in 1972. A study in 2000 found that only 28.1% of college freshman kept up to date with politics, a record low and down from 60.3% in 1966. "The current generation of young people may set a new standard for both civic disengagement and civic misinformation," writes J. Martin Rochester in his Fordham essay.
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Brendan Miniter writes about what is wrong with how social studies is taught.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 10:44 PM