A Member of the Supporting Cast: Mr. St. Jarre Responds to the Critiques of His Original Article, Taking the Opportunity to Stress the Harm Being Caused by the Current State of Social Studies Education

By St. Jarre, Kevin | Phi Delta Kappan, May 2008 | Go to article overview

A Member of the Supporting Cast: Mr. St. Jarre Responds to the Critiques of His Original Article, Taking the Opportunity to Stress the Harm Being Caused by the Current State of Social Studies Education


St. Jarre, Kevin, Phi Delta Kappan


AFTER reading the responses to my initial article, it is clear that I'll be devoting the lion's share of my space to continuing the conversation with Jesus Garcia. But I do have to at least address Robert Bain's disappointing response in some limited way.

With Mr. Bain's A response, I was struck by how apparently indignant a person can become by reading an article from which he could not correctly isolate a single key point. His sideswiping attack made clear only that he disapproved of how I wrote the original piece, without really making a counteroffer of his own ideas. His response reminded me of a neophyte art critic complaining about brushstroke technique without ever recognizing the subject of the painting. When he attempts to craft an argument, he first reframes what I wrote into points I did not make, fashioning for himself some straw men. Then he attacks only them.

Even in his assault on those straw men, though, the most disappointing part is that Mr. Bain never makes the readers an offer. I do not mind what he thinks of me personally, although I was surprised at how personal his attack was. However, I think it might have been useful if someone of his experience had chosen to argue the ideas put forth in my article. Instead, he attacks me for using an anecdote about Jay Leno. Like many successful teachers, I was using humor to teach and to illustrate a point. Meanwhile, he opens his response with a glib quote from the admirable Daniel Dennett.

Instead of discussing my suggested solutions to the problem, Mr. Bain spends his ink telling us there are and have been no problems in social studies education, that our citizens are well prepared, and that history is not just historical facts. Ironically, he does this in part by using an anecdote. He tells us that all of the other social sciences that are used to give context to history and to aid in the analysis of history are in fact just part of history. This simply demonstrates how right I was about how cocksure historians can be about their role in teaching social studies. I found it useful that, although he missed and ignored the points I made, he managed to prove one of them by accident.

I believe most readers will know my position after reading my initial piece, even if they disagree. With Mr. Bain, all that is clear about his position is that he agrees with some small part of his misinterpretation of my position but hates how I shared my ideas. He attempts to discredit my use of sources, but two of his footnotes source his own experience or writing, and in a third he confesses a lack of comprehension. At least this last was both candid and revealing.

In summing up my response to Mr. Bain, I would say only that I wish he had actually focused on what I wrote. I will devote no time or effort to defending the straw men he created, as these were not my points or positions. If he would like to reread my article and wants to try discussing my ideas, he can always send me an e-mail.

Jesus Garcia's response was far more worthy. While he does not agree with everything I wrote, he makes the reader an offer of his own. He agrees that history has long enjoyed primacy within the social studies curriculum. Even today, it serves as the framework from which the other social sciences are suspended. My suggestion has always been to do away with history survey courses, teach the social sciences as courses themselves, and add a bit of their unique histories to those courses, rather than trying to force every other social science into our history courses.

While some might confuse what history is and refer to the analysis done during history courses as historical work, such work has always been anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, philosophy, civics, or something else. Historians call it "history" only because they still cannot see or admit that history is a list of occurrences. Any and all analysis of any historical event or fact requires using the lens of another social science. …

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A Member of the Supporting Cast: Mr. St. Jarre Responds to the Critiques of His Original Article, Taking the Opportunity to Stress the Harm Being Caused by the Current State of Social Studies Education
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