More and more, it seems that educational resources support two core courses: English Language Arts and Mathematics. In my opinion, this is a dangerous trend in education, today. At a time when students must prepare to live within a global society, education curriculum and instructional resources are ignoring other critical subjects. As a result, the education industry’s emphasis on chasing vanity metrics tends to narrow curriculum design and implementation.
Investing primarily in “tested” courses, i.e. English Language Arts and Mathematics, because they’re predominantly represented in standardized exams, is a tragic educational blunder. Yes, reading comprehension and computation skills are vital, but they’re not the “be-all and end-all.” If we rely solely on English Language Arts or Math teachers to do the “heavy lifting,” then we’re creating a skewed division of labor. Such an inequitable division creates wedges within a school building at the expense of meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration. Although standardized tests have their place, they should never exclusively define a school district’s curriculum design.
Every student needs exposure to the sciences and the arts. Simply put, not every student is a future author or engineer. Some will grow to become musicians, artists, scientists, social scientists, computer programmers, etc. Therefore, we must guard against restricting their access to various disciplines. It’s important for us to acknowledge that each course provides its unique curriculum and opportunity to expand a student’s worldview.
So, what subject gets the biggest “bang for its buck?”
Social Studies courses provide students with an opportunity to learn about various cultures. A well-rounded curriculum yields a well-rounded student. Since the world, on various levels, is flat, we simply cannot afford to remain American-centric in our educational approaches. Therefore, we ought to prepare students for the future global society, and not the past. In my opinion, students can benefit greatly from exposure to different cultures, such as the Chinese, Indian, African, etc. Learning about the history of civilization is critical to producing a well-rounded, 21st century global citizen.
Now, what better course offers such an opportunity?
You guessed it.
Reading comprehension skills don’t apply to English Language Arts’ classes, alone. They’re applicable to Social Studies classes, too. Since every discipline involves reading, teaching comprehension skills transcends a traditional English Language Arts’ classroom. For example, I require my students to read an excerpt from Jared Diamond’s, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race,” as a project-based unit. Assignments, such as this one, help to illustrate how Social Studies and English Language Arts’ skills overlap. In other words, Social Studies courses incorporate reading comprehension skills, as well.
At some point, every course requires students to practice their writing skills. Whether it’s creating an essay, speech, or another product, students engage in writing beyond English Language Arts’ classes. Although learning how to write well is a critical skill to master, it’s not exclusive to teaching students how to answer brief constructed responses. Social Studies classes provide the opportunity to connect both, writing skills and historical knowledge.
Narrowing the curriculum, as a result of chasing vanity metrics, undermines teaching and learning. Instead of adequately investing in all subjects, education experts are relying too heavily on “tested” subjects. As a result, students are missing out on quality, well round curricula. Even though I appreciate the need to strengthen English Language Arts’ courses, Social Studies is more than its “annoying relative.”