Magazine article Social Studies Review

Building a Strong Foundation for Success: Elementry History-Social Science

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Building a Strong Foundation for Success: Elementry History-Social Science

Article excerpt

Never before has the interest in education been stronger than in the last decade. The entire nation is focused on improving student performance in schools. Not only has the funding allocation for schools increased, but almost every state has developed rigorous standards for teachers and for students, backed by a high stakes testing program. This new focus on achievement is resulting in measurable improvement. But, are we improving student performance in the areas that educators, the public, and parents have identified as the most important purposes of education? In the schools and classrooms where history-- social science education has been given limited time or emphasis in the school day, the answer is no.

Not only do educational pundits such as William Bennett, E.D. Hirsch, Robert Reich, and Peter Drucker advocate schools that create "knowledge workers" and responsible citizens, but this view has been re-enforced at countless presentations that I have made all over the state. When asking groups to list the five most important things that successful people need to learn in school it is invariably the same list. They think the purpose of public schools is for all its graduates to be able to

* Get along well with and respect others in a diverse society

* Learn new things and solve problems/deal with change

* Be a productive worker in the global economy

* Participate effectively as a citizen in the 21 st century

* Develop a sense of personal fulfillment/happiness

Some groups were more into the last idea and others more into the first, but everyone had the middle three. Everyone thought these were the main purpose of all levels of education. A reflective look at the list shows that each of these attributes involve the development of advanced levels of history-social science skills and knowledge.

If this is the case, then why are so many elementary teachers reporting that reading and math have been allotted almost all the time in the school day and that the social studies curriculum has been relegated to a half hour experience two or three times per week? Testing of course. When only reading/language arts and math are assessed at the elementary school level, it is perceived that performance on a standardized test is related directly to instructional time in teaching those subjects. To improve performance, schools are told to focus instruction on these areas. However, a careful analysis of the reading samples and questions on the standardized tests leads one to a different conclusion. From forty percent to two-thirds of the readings from which questions are drawn are from expository text. Of those, the majority are from one of the history-social science fields. In addition, the narrative selections are often derived from a piece of folklore that requires some cultural understanding by the reader in order for them to interpret meaning.

High reading performance is more than recognizing words. It is a matter of comprehension. I will define that concept as the making of meaning from a passage, drawing inferences, or analyzing text information. This process requires that the reader put information in context, categorize and relate ideas, and summarize and restate information. This is learned first with narrative, and expanded with content rich, expository text. History-- social science is the best context in which to teach these skills. Since social studies content is derived from multiple sources, each can be used and the information derived compared. For example, there are many Native American legends and stories for young people. These can be used as the first step in comprehension by reading and retelling the stories. The second level of comprehension can be attained through comparing the perspectives and cultures expressed across several simple narratives. But until these stories are validated with nonfiction sources, the understanding remains superficial. …

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