Revamp Social Studies
I am responding to your editorial of Dec. 14, 2019 concerning the changes in the state requirements in the social studies. I am a retired teacher (Wheeling Park High School) with over 39 years experience. I have taught all of the required social studies classes (that are being changed) at one time and I have subbed in AP (advanced placement) classes since my retirement.
I agree with your editorial that we should not rush to diminish the number of credits in social studies. However, having taught these classes, there needs to be some fundamental changes in their delivery. At the present time students are required to take 3 1/2 credits of social studies (one world history; one U.S. history, 1300 to 1900; a half for U.S. history, 1900 to the present; one for civics and government.)
U.S. History is necessary to all Americans. The qualification test for new citizens has many U.S. history questions to answer. Our students need to know all of U.S. history, and 1 1/2 credits are about right. Should new immigrants know more than natural born citizens? I think not.
Civics and government is also required. More than any other time in history, the knowledge of how our government works and what the U.S. constitution requires is a must know. Even on the highest national levels there seems to be a lack of fundamental knowledge of just what the constitution requires and protects and why we developed it 200-plus years ago. The workings of state and local government is of equal importance and this must include voting rules and rights. For many years, this was a ninth grade class.
It was promoted to 12th grade status.
Maybe civics should be changed to a lower grade. This would still allow teaching of the subject, but before U.S. history. This could make it easier to under the founder’s ideas about government and personal freedom.
The last on my list is world history (now a ninth grade class).
At one time we did not teach the entire world’s history. Today we do.
We still teach ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the ancient near-eastern empire, the middle ages as before. But we have added the histories of India, China, Japan, Meso-America, Sub-Sarahan Africa. And in addition we dropped geography completely.
It is now taught in the world history class.
To do just to this amount of material in 135 hours (45 minutes a day/180 days) is just too much to do a good job.
The class moves along like a five-day tour of Europe — too much, not enough time. Too much left out.
Who/what/when/where/why is what is promised but seldom delivered due to time restraints.
This class needs to be taught later in school (year 10/11) and changed to a world’s culture class.
World culture examines cultural areas in the present. The culture, the governments, the peoples who live there, customs, religion, language and history will still be included but at a reduced emphasis.
This class would have more meaning that plain history. We, for example, need to know some Chinese history, but the present day culture is more important. We may actually get to see modern China and need to know just what makes modern China tick. Chinese history is important, but a good computer program (Wikipedia, for example) can fill in most other historical references should they arise. All of the world’s cultural areas can be incorporated in to the class for about one month of a nine month school year. Your chances of actually going to present day countries are pretty good. Military service, travel with jobs, more schooling all are real things. And don’t forget the large number of foreigners who live, work, and own properties in West Virginia. Foreign cultures are right here — right now. We may not know the names of 25 Japanese emperors, but we may need to know a few polite phrases and customs to make ourselves more comfortable in our relationships.
This still requires 3 1/2 credits. Removing them will not help any American student. Vocational skills are fine, bu in our quick-changing society are only good for about 20 years. Technology will change how jobs are filled and done. Automation, self-driving, AI will render quite a few jobs gone by 2030, but many new ones will be created. We can’t anticipate what they will be or how they will be done, but we will still be Americans.
Vote. Be involved with government, and have civil rights and responsibilities until our present students are as old as I am.
Kim Stephen Mattis