For years, schools have been emphasizing math and language arts, for which there are standardized tests that help determine funding. This is at the expense of social studies, physical education, and arts education. Now, according to Gorman Lee, the president of Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, the country is facing a crisis.
Reduced class time and closed social studies departments have resulted in a generation or two of American children who get little to no education in important civic matters. Numerous schools are offering the absolute bare minimum of social studies classes, often taught by teachers whose actual specialty lies in English or math.
Math and language arts are important, of course, but with schools being forced to focus on STEM — because that’s where many of the best jobs are or will be — they are falling behind in social studies. Education is about more than just imparting measurable skills on a person. It is also about civic development. Social studies classes, such as history, civics, geography, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and economics, teach students valuable information about the world around them.
All too often, these subjects are reduced to trivia in the “real world,” but the most important role of social studies is to teach students critical thinking skills. All the math in the world can’t tell you what to do with it. A scientist without any knowledge of how people actually live, especially people who don’t come from the same background that they do, is a scientist who doesn’t consider the effects of their research. A programmer who doesn’t understand how the government works is one who doesn’t vote.
The ability to co-exist with people who aren’t exactly like you, especially important in a world that is home to increasingly visible groups with a variety of lived experience, cannot be subjected to standardized testing. These skills are picked up through exposure to different ideas and experiences, and taking that away from students by denying them access to social studies does a great disservice to them and the world they’re inheriting.