Monday, February 28, 2011

MN's Revised Social Studies Standards Need Buy-In, Relevance & Modernization

5/18/11 Update: See Minneapolis Middle School's 2011-12 Testing of I Civics to Provide Head Start on Newly Revised MN Social Studies Standards.

As a proponent of quality social studies instruction, a proposal for the reissuance of related k-12 standards in Minnesota schools should have folks like me jumping for joy. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

With the global economic collapse of 2008 and the accelerating democratization of Middle Eastern nations changing the economic and political landscape right before our very eyes, many experts have correctly recognized the entirely new world in which we live, yet the first draft of MN's revised social studies standards  could've easily been written in 1961-- not 2011.

No one should fault education officials for wanting students to know it all, in their proposal for standards in geography, government & civics, economics, and U.S. and World History.  But it's the very fact that these subjects have all but fallen off the course offerings of elementary schools that make the draft proposal-- heavy laden in typical "standards speak"-- so unrealistic.

Most of Minnesota's primary schools are so crunched for course time they can hardly work in one academic quarter of one class period of instruction, so how do state officials expect schools to carve out time to meet new instructional strands in world history, geography, economics, and government & civics in the third grade, much less kindergarten?  And maybe you'll agree it might be a little out of order to ask a fourth grader to spend time pondering the merits of the opportunity costs associated with government tradeoffs.

View the Draft Document   under the Minnesota Revised Social Studies Standards First Draft section on the linked page. 

Besides the fact that events of the last few years have moved students an entire era away from much of what they would be expected to study under the revised standards, there are additional reasons to question the relevance of the standards draft. 

Nowhere in the revised draft are anything close to the two-word phrases environmental education or financial literacy mentioned, although the U.S. Department of Education did see fit to include these subjects as ones to reward states & districts by in its proposed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.  Quite possibly, our highest ranking education officials realize that without civilization critical education in these two areas, future citizens really will be reading about ancient history when looking back to the current time.

A final critique has to do with that all-important concept of keeping students engaged in academic fields that  people generally appreciate more as they age, & not as much during their invincible, and often purposefully ignorant period of youth.   In history's case, it's about bringing life to a subject long-known for the rote memorization of dates.

Given the wide array of modern media delivery methods (e.g. C-Span, History Channel, podcasting, & websites from iCivics to Animated Atlas), maybe it's time for Minnesota's Education Department to recommend, if not expressly define, alternate methods for meeting standards in a given area.  For at the end of a student's k-12 career, perhaps the most important aptitude a graduating senior will take away is how to be a selective & wise public affairs consumer living in a sea of choice, as well as in a just-in-time (vs. just in case) learning society.

And until then .... to reemphasize an earlier point .... has anyone asked the affected instructors at our primary and secondary schools what standards might work?

The draft document referred to above offers a Submit Your Comments on the Draft section for teachers and laypersons to do just that.  You should also feel free to leave them at the end of this post, or by sending them to me directly.