Social Studies

When I look back on my early education years, I reflect on certain words and phrases.  These combinations have entered public lexicon, and no one seems to question them later.  “Whole Language” was one of them.  Apparently I learned to write during this trend, and was taught how to represent concepts rather than accurate spelling and syntax.  Spelling developed later through simple writing practice, though in the days preceding spellcheck, I didn’t get the immediate feedback, so I was slow to adapt.

But the big one to me, being the historian, is the term “Social Studies”.  Taken at face value without the personal experiences within the American educational system, the term sounds like preparatory education for public sector work.  But what is it really?

Naturally, I consulted Wikipedia:

“…created to consolidate and standardize various subjects which did not fit within normal school curricula”

The wording of that statement seems almost presumptuous, but I didn’t feel like reading the 63-page government document that outlined the program, so I’ll take the summary at face value.  Assuming it’s accurate, 19th-century education apparently didn’t incorporate the broad spectrum of social studies: history, geography, and political science.  And rather than cover each discipline, they were all thrown into a big pot and given a common name.

The problem, in my opinion, was that as schools organized subjects based on time blocks, all of these disciplines were allotted only a shared time–50 minutes, in my own experience.  So for 50 minutes a day, I was expected to learn humanities and social sciences.

And this is where I’ll note that physical education was a double-blocked class.

And physical education is a misnomer–the class was football education.  So for 2 hours a day in my youth I learned how to play football, and was given half the time to study all of the humanities and social sciences.

And social studies is also a misnomer, because the curriculum of this class was entirely comprised of Texas history.  So for the majority of my adolescence, I learned football and Texas history.

I don’t suppose that my Texan upbringing was a common experience outside of that educational system, but why do we continue to group things like this?  Is there some reason the various social sciences can’t be addressed individually?  Then again, science classes were all grouped together too.  I guess when we’re young, we’re just thrown information in the hopes that it will build foundations as prerequisites for more delineated disciplines later?

Just one of many questions I posit for my successors.


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