Saturday, June 15, 2013

Social Studies: The Common Core

After reading the text Teaching Democracy by Walter Parker for one of my classes it forced me to reflect on the current state of Social Studies instruction in our schools. As we all know, with the recent adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), especially here in New York State, we have been forced to closely examine our practices to confirm that our instructional approaches meet the expectations delineated by these standards. Our goal is to ensure that all of our students are college and career ready after their academic careers in our schools. What constitutes being college and career ready is debatable but one component many educators agree upon is that our children need practice employing and mastering 21st Century skills if they are to be successful in school and beyond. In order for our students to be considered successful, they are should be able to use the following 21st Century skill set: being able to create, think critically, communicate and collaborate. Up until now, these skills have been fostered and nurtured through experiences in literacy, mathematics, arts, sciences and humanities courses. Unfortunately, with the implementation of the CCSS this year, which I still have mixed feelings about but is here to stay, I am concerned that the message being communicated from the state is that our instructional focus should solely be on language arts and mathematics. This potential reality has me concerned because it means that content areas, such as Social Studies, may be taking a back seat but that should not be the case!

I see the implementation of the CCSS as an opportunity to redesign and revitalize our social studies curriculum and instructional focal points. In considering the rigor of the CCSS and thoroughly examining the expectations of the 21st Century skills many of us hope our children develop, we need to move our students away from simply memorizing historical facts and information to becoming critically thinking citizens who understand not only their democratic rights but the expectations that are associated with these rights. This is an opportunity for us to teach our children about active participation in their learning and construction of knowledge as it relates to citizenship and civics, which directly connect to the expectations of the CCSS and the above mentioned 21st Century skill set. Specifically, we want to emphasize that being a member of a democratic society means one must construct his or her own path by actively participating in the process of deliberation and networking. We must cultivate and foster relationships between children where they are challenged to deliberate important issues and they understand that sharing one’s view is the beginning of a process where that same view should be diversified by the perspectives of their peers. 

Our schools should also embrace the 21st century, as it relates to technological resources, and help our children refine the skills necessary for networking and deliberating beyond the school walls. 
One resource that has yet to be incorporated in many schools, as a powerful tool in the ability to deliberate and network, is that of social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Social media is a tool that could help “flatten the walls” of our schools and allow children the opportunity to make local, national and international connections and take the idea of pluralism and diverse perspectives to a whole other level. These connections would allow students to develop their own Personal Learning Networks as a resource that could shape one’s democratic path and make the act of deliberating and problem solving a global experience. Connections are at the heart of meaningful deliberation and giving our students access to ideas and opinions from around the world will not only enrich them as individuals but will also enhance entire school communities in our collective journey from “fact transmitters” to educating citizens for democratic living in a diverse society. This is our chance to implement the true Common Core - a meaningful and robust Social Studies experience where our children can practice skills related to all content areas!