Message from the President – April/May 2015

gorman_lee2Message from the President – April/May 2015

As I enter my final month of my term as President of the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, I shall continue with a number of projects in the following year (only this time as past President).

The Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, the Massachusetts Center for Civic Education, and Suffolk University will plan a summer content institute for Summer 2016. The central focus of the institute shall be principles and practice of the First Amendment. The American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) has initially expressed an interest in participating as a potential sponsor to help us fund this content institute and we are currently working on the necessary paperwork to make this happen! In the meantime, we are exploring the possibility of having a preview weekend seminar for K-12 educators in Fall 2015.

The spring statewide conference (Human and Civil Rights and the Social Studies) that was originally scheduled to take place at Bridgewater State University last March has been postponed to Fall 2015. We are continuing to work on hosting a fall statewide conference, and we are accepting new proposals for full-day workshops to take place around the state. I will be updating information about our fall statewide conference on our website shortly. In the meantime, you can check regular updates about the fall statewide conference by clicking here.

The Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies will be coordinating the 46th Northeast Regional Conference for the Social Studies (NERC) next April. It will be held at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Casey Cullen, our current vice president, is this year’s coordinator for NERC. If you are interested in participating in the planning or volunteering at NERC, you may email Casey at caseycullen77@gmail.com. Please stay tuned for the call for workshop proposal, which will be coming out shortly.

Our contract with Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference will expire after April 2016 and we will be exploring new venues around the state. If you know of a suitable venue for us to look into, please do not hesitate to email me (president@masscouncil.org) or to Norman Shacochis, past president, at normshac@verizon.net.

In regards to the survey we conducted last month, we received 78 responses to date. When this survey “went national” (via The Washington Post), I started receiving responses from teachers in other states!The following are significant overarching concerns among social studies classroom teachers and administrators based on the survey results:

  • Because school districts are not “investing” in social studies teachers (while hiring more ELA, math and science teachers), the average class enrollment in history and social studies classes are exceeding 30 students. In some school districts, social studies is the smallest staffed department while the ELA and math departments are growing (including hiring of full time literacy and math specialists).
  • School districts are looking to (or already have) cut social studies instructional time and staff, particularly at the elementary level (grades K-5) to allow for additional support to subject areas that are “tested” (ELA, math, and science). Some districts are considering not to replace social studies teachers or department heads who will be retiring at the end of the school year. There is one school district that is considering to no longer offer an American Civics course in high school. (I’m interested in seeing what their school’s mission statement reads).
  • There is a serious concern that social studies is being merged with ELA into a Humanities program, where that history and the social studies are taught to support Common Core ELA standards (rather than taught as equals) and virtually cutting out the historical background and context necessary to learn for deep historical understanding. Most troubling are the school districts that are planning to “let go” history teachers who do not have an English Language Arts certification or Humanities certification yet ELA teachers are allowed to teach history without certification in the subject area.
  • The marginalization of social studies is exacerbated with the perception and attitude that “anyone can teach social studies” by assigning math, ELA, and science teachers one social studies class, so the school district doesn’t have to hire a social studies teacher in order to save money or to increase staff in the “tested” subject areas.
  • Significant reduction of professional development opportunities and grants for social studies education at the local, state and national levels. We have seen in recent years the elimination of state and federal education grants supporting history and social studies education (e.g., Teaching American History grants), and defunding (thus dismantling) national organizations such as the Center for Civic Education. At the local level, social studies teachers are denied to attend professional development workshops, unless the workshop is focused on ELA Humanities or Common Core.

I must note, however, that it is promising to see in the survey results that there are school districts that continue to fully support history and social studies and are not willing to compromise the social studies department.

Again, thank you so much for your contribution!  I will be drafting an Executive Summary along with talking points to propose a resolution for the Mass Council to consider, and I will be in touch with those who expressed an interest in participating in an Advocacy Day to meet with your local elected representatives. 

If you would like to become more involved in advocating for social studies education and are not members of the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies (www.masscouncil.org) and the National Council for the Social Studies (www.socialstudies.org), please consider joining us! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, issues, and concerns regarding social studies education.

As you may or may not know, there is a reauthorization bill being introduced by U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Patricia Murray that includes the creation of a competitive grant program that would award grants to local education agencies to carry out activities promoting the teaching of traditional American history. The Center for Civic Education is pushing to consider revising its ESEA bill to include civic and geography education as well.

We are in full support of a motion to include civics and government, history, and geography in the ESEA bill that is being considered in the U.S. Senate.

A strong K-12 social studies curriculum creates learning opportunities for students to recognize the complex relationships between content knowledge, critical thinking, problem solving, and service to the community. A quality social studies education encourages our students to read, write, think critically, and solve problems by introducing topics and issues that are relevant and meaningful to their lives, to their families, and to their communities. We acknowledge that a well-designed K-12 social studies curriculum promotes meaningful inquiry, independent and collaborative research, and cooperation to solve problems for the common good.

We find it important for our students to demonstrate mastery in government and civics, history, and geography in order to grasp the basic foundations of our democracy, culture, and citizenship. These subject areas collectively contribute toward developing a deep understanding of how a democratic society functions, evolves, flourishes, and survives. A comprehensive and rigorous K-12 government and civics education encourages a high level of civic awareness, virtue, and responsibility among our young adults across the Commonwealth. A strong K-12 history curriculum allows students to appreciate the origins and developments of American democracy and how events and decisions of the historical past have tested the ideals and words contained in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S.  Constitution. A strong K-12 geography curriculum allows students to recognize global interactions, cultural differences, and the impact of decisions not only from an American perspective but also from those made by other countries as well. In brief, studying history, civics, geography and the many other branches of social studies will enable our students to be better prepared to be effective and engaged citizens of our communities, state and nation as well as comprehending the complex world that we all must face in the years to come.

On a final note, our annual awards for excellence in teaching social studies and board meeting will take place on May 20, 2015. We will post tweets on our Twitter account and introduce the recipients of this year’s outstanding social studies teachers as they are announced!

Spring is finally here. Enjoy the weather!!!

Sincerely,
Gorman Lee, Ed.D.
Mass Council President

 

===================================================

Earlier President’s Messages

President’s Message list is now a separate page: http://www.masscouncil.org/?page_id=4357