Social Studies Facts At Risk
Special Report - October 6, 2010
Many high school social studies teachers are more concerned about teaching “notions of tolerance and rights” instead of historical facts and constitutional concepts, and the overwhelming majority think that social studies should be part of their state’s standards and testing, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute’s Program on American Citizenship. The September 2010 report, “High Schools, Civics and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do,” is based on a national random survey of 1,000 public and private social studies teachers. The survey attempted to highlight what social studies teachers are teaching their students about being good citizens and the meaning of being an American.
Among the report’s positive findings is that the overwhelming majority (83 percent) of high school social studies teachers in the survey believed that the U.S. is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world,” and 82 percent said students should learn to “respect and appreciate the country but know its shortcomings.” However, the survey also found confusion among many social studies teachers over what to teach students, with less priority given to teaching facts, such as key events in U.S. history. According to the report, many social studies teachers “set too low a bar for what they expect students to know about American history and government.” For example, teaching facts to students was the lowest priority among most social studies teachers in the report, with only 20 percent of teachers choosing the teaching of “key facts, dates and events” as their top teaching priority. Given a list of 12 concepts of citizenship, 83 percent of social studies teachers in the survey said it was “absolutely essential” for students to learn about the protections in the Bill of Rights. Only 64 percent of teachers said it was “absolutely essential” for high school students “to understand such concepts as federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances,” and 63 percent said the same about key periods in America’s history, such as the Civil War.
The survey also asked teachers about the inclusion of social studies in their state’s curriculum standards and tests. Nine out of 10 teachers (or 93 percent) said that the statement, “social studies should be part of the state’s standards and testing, ” came either very close or somewhat close to their view. Additionally, 70 percent of teachers said that the statement, “social studies classes have become lower priority because of pressure to show progress on state tests in math and language arts,” came very or somewhat close to their view.
Another disturbing finding from the AEI report is that many teachers in the survey did not express full confidence that students are actually learning the key concepts of American citizenship they need to know. For example, only 24 percent of teachers in the survey said they were “very confident” that most of their students ”could identify the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights” by the time they graduate. Only 15 percent of teachers said they were “very confident” that most of their graduating students could “understand such concepts as federalism, separations of powers, and checks and balances.”
Colleges Change Student Views - February 15, 2010
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