It’s time for me to go back to the classroom where I teach teenagers about civics and current events. It feels enormously consequential, as it always does.
I’ve been known to jokingly hashtag social media posts #loveandmoresocialstudiesclasses when someone in the public eye says or does something that betrays their lack of knowledge. Recent events have had me saying it very seriously; America does need love and more social studies classes. Desperately.
The throngs of men waving guns and Nazi flags make that quite clear. But so do the frantic Facebook posts about how the removal of a statue is “destroying our culture,” the panicked wonderings about “who will go next – George Washington?!?!?!” and the angry insistence that “kids need a history lesson!!!!” followed by one link to a Wikipedia article on the Civil War.
When I read that kind of thing, I can’t help but think that decades of cuts to and devaluation of social studies education are at least in part to blame.
I’m fortunate in that I teach in a district and a state that have long valued my field, but the demand for more civics and history classes, in particular, is gaining nationwide momentum. This is good, and should put the fears prevalent in social media to rest.
A robust social studies curriculum includes national, state, and local history. It builds cultural literacy, empathy, mindfulness, and comprehension. Social studies classrooms are a place for students to develop their critical thinking skills – which make it pretty easy to differentiate between a Founding Father who would fall short of meeting today’s moral standards, and a military officer who took part in a violent rebellion against this nation. We teach that one source is not research, and that opinions are strengthened by the examination of multiple primary and secondary sources – not just Wikipedia.
Anyone who is truly concerned about the preservation of history should be attending local school board meetings and demanding that quality social studies education be a priority in all schools. This will bear fruits of thoughtful, engaged, civil discourse – and action – and through that we will create a more perfect union.
A generation educated with love and more social studies classes may well be a generation that decides we will no longer commemorate a dark era in our past with statues. But it won’t be one that has forgotten history, or failed to learn from it.
Kathleen Murdough has a hard time explaining where she’s from because she’s an army brat, but North Conway, NH, the town where she lives now, has been her home longer than any other place that she’s lived. She has been a high school social studies teacher there for twelve years, and can think of no more awesome privilege and responsibility.