Today is the last day for the public to give requested feedback on the proposed NY social studies framework. Please read this essay and the one below for our take on what sort of feedback the state needs and then write up your comments to the state (copy and paste to comments here, if you would). Don’t say it’s up to someone else – it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!
Proposed NY Social Studies Curriculum for 12th Grade Needs Fixed
The revised draft NY State Social Studies framework still requires way too much content, as described in the article on Chalkbeat and essay by Steve Lazar. The only place where too much content is NOT the main problem is the proposed 12th grade curriculum, for Civics and Economics. Even though the state’s curriculum for 12th grade won’t be tested, and therefore won’t be read by most teachers, it still frames “what should be taught” and deserves a critical look.
Students should learn and practice the skills and knowledge of participants in society in 12th grade. The current draft gets the most important aspect of state curriculum right – it doesn’t prevent a good teacher from offering a good course. Instead of the 110+ content specifications of US History (11th grade) the 12th grade curriculum requires only 59 “Key Ideas”. That means teachers can more deeply explore important issues if allowed a year to teach Economics and Civics.
Unfortunately, the proposed 12th grade framework rarely problematizes topics. Capstone social studies courses in a republic should speak to students as co-leaders of society – it should speak to all students, not just the comfortable.
Weird Mixture of Pontificating Plus …
Instead, the current framework sometimes pontificates at us with an odd mixture of smugness and sensitivity. The document reads as though someone with a livelier mind has gone through and tried to revise a set of 1950s-era Republican banalities but still had to compromise with a representative of the old guard. For instance; 12.E4f Differences in wealth and incomes are an inevitable consequence of free markets because individuals make different choices, but gross inequalities reflect social, economic, and/or political distortions in society. The degree to which economic inequality reflects social, political, or economic injustices versus individual choices is hotly debated. The role that the government should play in decreasing this gap is debated as well.
The “Key Idea” begins with the pompous – rich people made good decisions, poor people made bad ones – but it immediately (thankfully) contradicts itself in the next clause – big inequalities are the result of “distortions” in society. After this contradictory pair of “factual” assertions we’re offered the best two sentence of the entire 12th grade curriculum – acknowledging a lively controversy over inequality and the role of the government in responding to inequality.
Sometimes Just Pompous
Sometimes the curriculum simply asserts banality without contradiction; 12.G3b – Citizens have certain duties and obligations to support and serve the government, including legal obligations such as obeying laws, paying taxes, serving on juries, and registering for selective service.
The government is telling students they have a duty (whether moral, religious, or legal isn’t specified) to “support and serve the government”. The revolutionaries who created the United States said that the government was made by the people to protect our rights and that the people always have the right to alter or abolish the government – the Declaration of Independence says nothing about the people having the duty to serve or support the government.
A similar misunderstanding of the basic relationship between government and people in a republic; “12.G2b Equality before the law and due process are two fundamental values that apply to all United States citizens and legal residents.”
According to the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights the right to equality applies to all men and to due process to all persons. Who empowered the state curriculum to restrict the rights that – according to our founders – are inherent in all people? In several places the curriculum treats rights as though the government can “extend” them or reduce them – directly contradicting a founding political principle of our nation. And what does this “Key Idea” say to a student (one of thousands) who is neither a citizen nor a legal resident?
Which students did the curriculum writers have in mind?
The blunt assertion of non-rights of undocumented students brings up the question, “Who is this curriculum written for?” Primarily it seems to be written for the comfortable. The “Foundations of American Democracy” section doesn’t mention the founders’ perpetuation of slavery. “Entrepreneurialism” gets at least 8 mentions in the Economics section – but literally not a single mention of poverty or class. Sage advice is provided about calculating real return on investments – but there’s zilch about using government programs for the needy – a particularly terrible gap since those government programs could help New York students and their families ameliorate misery (and over 30% of NYC schoolchildren live in poverty).
Speaking of children living in poverty, several times the curriculum mutters darkly about “other countries”. But nowhere does it specify that students should compare European social democracy to our mixed-economy to a “purer” form of the much-lauded “free market”. Odd, because these civics courses spread in the U.S. as a propaganda effort to contrast the U.S. and communist systems – as shown in the Cold War title, “The Economics of Free Enterprise in a Global Economy” (and this video). Too bad, because considering the desired shape of our society in terms of actual examples would inspire the sort of imagination that a democracy requires in all of its future co-leaders. And the clash of several philosophies embodied in social democracy and in “pure capitalism” overseas can also illuminate political parties’ philosophies in the U.S. that students need to understand to participate intelligently in our society.
To make the 12th grade curriculum much better, with minimal editing;
- Replace a few of the entrepreneurial “Key Ideas” with ones addressing poverty, class mobility, and government programs for the needy.
- Problematize the complexity of a government “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” but founded on slavery and genocide – a clash of rhetoric and reality that (arguably) continues.
- Fix the confusion about rights or at least acknowledge the controversy more often.
- In general – acknowledge controversy as often as possible! Don’t require millions of schoolchildren to learn anonymous authors’ political perspectives on inflation, unemployment, or due process as facts.
- Bring back some big ideas. Substantiate the mutterings about “other countries” with a “Key Idea” about how the U.S. compares to other industrialized nations in government and economics. More clearly specify a balanced consideration of the political philosophies of the major political parties. Get the students thinking!