Social Studies

Kids used to study History, Geography, and Western Civ. Well before the time I hit middle school, though, we switched over to Social Studies, which presumably is supposed to evoke the idea of sociology.

My main memories of social studies were obscure listings of the principal exports of a handful of African countries, a few discussions about the havoc wrought in Latin America by one Christopher Columbus, a teacher who read North Carolina ghost stories on Fridays, and one teacher who obsessively played, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” apparently whenever she thought we had touched on a name or topic mentioned in the lyrics. Sure, I learned the names of U.S. Presidents and a bit about local history and geography, but topics like any reasonably detailed discussion of, say, the Civil War, were relegated to electives. American history or political theory wasn’t covered in much of any detail until AP US History.

I’m not complaining about my education or my teachers; I got to college much more well-read than was average among my peers, because my middle school and high school were excellent. I think, though, that something might be wrong in our multi-cultural approach to classroom education when people graduate high school, but disturbingly high numbers of them cannot explain what Watergate was, name either of the Presidents during WWII, or identify the decade of the Civil War. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that any educational system in the United States which fails to embed any of that basic knowledge in at least, say, 98% of each graduating class needs to be razed to the ground and rebuilt from scratch.

It’s not just us, either; a teacher’s union in the UK wants to abolish the term “fail” from classrooms. Tongue Tied calls this, appropriately, Deferred Intelligence.