President’s Message – April 2013

MCSS – the Voice for Social Studies

Over this past year, we have seen some much needed progress in Social Studies education. Perhaps not in our schools but in the growing public consciousness about the importance of Social Studies education. The Special Commission on Civic Education and Learning, chaired by Senator Richard Moore, issued a report – “Renewing the Social Compact” – that called for a renewed emphasis on Civic and Social Studies education in Massachusetts Public Schools, as well as reinstitution of the the History and Social Sciences Frameworks and MCAS exam. The Pioneer Institute issued a report – “The Rise and Fall of American History Education in Massachusetts” – that brought attention to the lack of Social Studies education taking place in our public schools due to the overemphasis on the “tested” disciplines. And most recently, Harvard Law School held a Civic Education Forum that featured many notable figures (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice David Souter, Lawrence Tribe, Ken Starr, Howard Gardner, Senator Richard Moore, and many others) speaking out about the nationwide problem facing Social Studies, that of diminishing attention and its very real and very detrimental impact. It is our hope that this growing awareness will have an impact on our state legislators and our state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to call for local school systems to bring to an immediate halt the marginalization of the Social Studies in their schools and rejuvenate the needed core study that will address that part of every school’s mission statement – to develop/produce active, knowledgeable, participatory citizens.

It has always been the charge of MCSS to advocate for Social Studies, and given these reports and the atmosphere that we find present, that charge is more vital than ever. The MCSS seeks to be the voice for Social Studies in Massachusetts, but we are not the voice of Social Studies. That voice is you, our members and those who are in the classrooms and schools everyday, from Kindergarten to those of the highest institutions. And so we are faced with a difficult situation. We need more members. We need a stronger voice. Not because we need more dues to be paid, but simply so that our voice is a stronger and genuinely valid one. Why is every department chair, every curriculum coordinator, every Social Studies supervisor not a member of MCSS? Why do we have so few, so very few, MCSS members from the college ranks? Why are members of the League of Women Voters or the Geography Alliance or any number of other such organizations not members of MCSS? When we speak up for Social Studies, we speak up for the instructors of geography, of sociology, of psychology, of economics, of government and political science. Why are those instructors not members of MCSS?

Over the months ahead, the MCSS will be making very sincere efforts to reach out to all who should be members of this council. We will be making equally sincere efforts to find ways to better serve Social Studies instructors of all fields and to improve NERC so that all MCSS members – and those who should be members – know that their voice is one that will be heard. Please do all you can to encourage enrollment, for it is in that growing voice of Social Studies that we will gain the knowledge and wisdom we need to serve as the voice for Social Studies.


NERC 44 Summary

Our 44th North-East Regional Conference for the Social Studies was held in Sturbridge, MA on April 8-10, 2013. Our theme: Turning Points: In Social Studies…For Social Studies was seen in the keynote addresses, in many of the workshops, and in many informal discussions throughout the 3 days. The conference was a wonderful success in all ways but one – the disappointing attendance. 402 attendees took part in a great variety of workshops, clinics, and sessions, and had a steady stream of positive reactions and assessments to them. Many were typically anxious to return to their classroom with a new idea, a new activity, or a new technique to share with their students and their colleagues. This is the genuine purpose of NERC, and that it helped contribute to that cause makes this 44th conference a huge success.

On Monday April 8, following a set of all day workshops that included Using Music in Teaching US History, the Use of Social Media, Lessons in Motion! From the Library of Congress, and the Civil Rights Movement, our Opening Ceremony and Awards was truly a celebration of all that is good in Social Studies. The Keynote Address by Roger Desrosiers on “The Future of Teaching History and Social Studies” was beautifully on target, and made even more powerful by Roger’s appearance in the garb of Horace Mann himself. This was followed by our Awards, and they were inspiring to all in attendance. Each nominator presented us with telling insights as to why each recipient was nominated, and each award winner was both appreciative and humble in their remarks; more importantly, each recipient served to inspire us all with their energy, their genuine love of the craft, and their dedication to making Social Studies education better and better.

The Award Winners:

William Spratt Award for Excellence in Teaching Secondary
June Murray, Hudson HS
69 Brigham Street
Hudson, MA 01749
Nominated by Todd Wallingford

William Spratt Award for Excellence in Teaching Middle School
Eric Mendoza, Saint Columbkille Partnership School
25 Arlington Street
Brighton, MA. 02053
Nominated by William Gartside

Barbara Capron Award for Excellence in Teaching Elementary School
Natacha Scott, Josiah Quincy Elementary School
885 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111
Nominated by Meghan Hendrickson

John Riley Award for Excellence in Teaching Geography
Rachel Killian, Dr. Robert G. O’Donnell Middle School
211 Cushing Street
Stoughton, MA. 02070
Nominated by John Gunning

George G. Watson, Jr. Award for Excellence in Teaching Economics
Richard Donnelly, Bedford H.S.
9 Mudge Way
Bedford, MA 01730
Nominated by George Guild

Charles Mitsakos Outstanding Supervisor Award
Edward Belbin, Westborough H.S.
90 West Main Street
Westborough, MA, 01581
Nominated by Casey Cullen

Richard Aieta Award for Promising New Teacher
Christina Baron, Mansfield Public School
250 East Street
Mansfield, MA. 02048
Nominated by Bill Hocking

Don Salvucci Award for Excellence in Promoting Civic Education
Brett Duncan, Ashburnham-Westminster School District
9 Oakmont Dr.
Ashburnham, MA
Nominated by Carrie Monty

Tuesday was highlighted by an entertaining and insightful Keynote Address by political observer Norman Ornstein. His address was entitled “America’s Dysfunctional Politics: Where Do We Go From Here?” And Mr. Ornstein’s very personal involvement in our government and in our politics gave us all considerable food for thought, especially those who were to return to their government or civics classroom! Tuesday also featured a day long workshop for Leadership and the MCSS Dinner, where the first Janna Bremer Friend of Social Studies Award was presented to Kevin Dwyer of the DESE. Kevin has been a true friend, a true advocate for Social Studies for many years, helping to frame the MCAS exam in an appropriate and valid manner, and he has always spoken for the Social Studies in his many roles at DESE. Typically, he made his remarks this evening as a testimonial about Janna Bremer, and we were so very pleased to have Janna’s family members with us to present this award to Kevin.

Wednesday our workshops and clinics continued, and were highlighted by Trey Grayson’s Keynote Address: “Are We At A Turning Point for Civic Education?” This topic is a focus of many outside groups right now, and therefore was a most timely address beyond fitting perfectly into our theme.

And so NERC 44 comes t a close, only to see Gorman Lee’s chairmanship begin for NERC 45, which promises some new ideas, some changes, and some exciting additions. NERC 45‘s theme Social Studies in the Balance. Stay tuned. And stay tuned for news about Boston 2014! The 2014 National NCSS Conference will be held in Boston at the Hynes Convention Center November 21-23, and its theme will be Let Freedom Ring! The Civic Mission of Our Schools.


Norm Shacochis
President, MCSS