Social Studies Column
About 2,000 social-studies educators--fewer than expected--were in Boston last week for the annual meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies. School budget cuts, plus reluctance to miss Thanksgiving dinner, probably contributed to the low attendance, council officials say.
Julian Bond, the Georgia state senator and civil-rights activist who delivered the Gould Memorial Lec-ture at the convention, focused his remarks on the effects of federal budget cuts, recounting what are in his view their negative social consequences nationwide.
Civil rights, Mr. Bond said, have suffered the gravest damage under the Reagan Administration. The Administration's actions have "limited and narrowed" the prospects for women and minorities, he said. Health and social services have sustained setbacks that are nearly as severe, he added, while defense continues to flourish.
And what about education, a member of the audience asked during the question-and-answer period that followed the speech. Why didn't Mr. Bond discuss those budget cuts?
"I shall, and I generally do," he replied. "But I didn't think I'd have to tell the victims what happened."
Another teacher wondered what he should say to a student who reported that his family was better off under this Administration than it had been under previous ones.
"Some of them haven't added up the pluses and minuses," Mr. Bond said. "To them, I think you can only say, 'Bully for you."'
But, he suggested, one could also remind the student that those who are less fortunate might eventually vent their frustrations against the affluent youth. "I'd tell him, 'Watch your back,"' Mr. Bond said.
In an effort to clarify and better define the social studies, an ncss task force has begun work on a document that will outline a recommended "scope and sequence" for social-studies courses taught in elementary and secondary schools.
According to a survey conducted earlier this year, social-studies educators would welcome such a document, although they would prefer that it be a catalogue of options, not a mandate, according to Jan L. Tucker of Florida International University in Miami, one of several speakers who described the effort.
Unlike previous attempts to formulate such guidelines, which speakers described as unsuccessful, the new document will speak directly to the practicing professional in elementary and secondary schools.
To date, the task force has developed a tentative outline that the "scope and sequence" document will follow. It is expected to be short, and will include a definition of the social studies--something that none of its predecessors has provided adequately, according to the speakers.
Other topics to be covered in the scope and sequence document include: the goals of the discipline, its scope as defined by grade level, the "values component" of social studies, the skills that should be taught, teaching modes and strategies, and recent research findings on brain development and learning.
Although energy education no longer receives the federal funding that fueled its growth over the past 10 or so years, private funds and new coalitions are likely to keep the momentum going, according to John Fowler, who directs the energy and education project for the National Science Teachers Association.
Among teachers and administrators, the interest in energy education remains strong, Mr. Fowler told delegates to the ncss meeting.
In a survey conducted earlier this year, the organizers of the energy project discovered that 58 percent of the elementary-school teachers and 52 percent of the secondary-school science teachers surveyed were spending an average of eight hours each year teaching about energy. This indicates, Mr. Fowler said, that teachers are "infusing" energy concepts into the curriculum.
The survey clearly suggests, he added, that energy education isn't likely to vanish with the federal funds. "It's got an identification. In spite of the fact that the federal push is gone, it's still there at the grass-roots level. I think that what we're seeing is fertile ground still untilled. My hope is that the grass-roots strength can keep things going. I was quite discouraged when the big political changes happened, but now I am quite encouraged in the other direction. I think that energy education can continue and grow."
In 1962, the actor and film director Sir Richard Attenborough read a biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Since then, he says, all of his career decisions have been made with an eye toward eventually directing a film biography of Gandhi. The 3-hour film that resulted from Mr. Attenborough's fixation will be released shortly, and social-studies teachers will be among the main targets of the film's publicity.
Officials of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing the film, acknowledge that they are distributing a promotional filmstrip, cassette, and other educational materials to encourage more people to see the movie.
But, they point out, the film is a historically accurate account of Gandhi's life and of a critical period in India's history. And they believe its themes can be linked to such U.S. developments as the nuclear-freeze movement and the civil-rights struggle.--sw