Bypassed by national efforts to set subject-matter standards in history, geography, and civics, social-studies educators are working on their own to develop standards for what students should know and be able to do in that subject.
“We’re an integrated field, and we see this as a broader, more encompassing perspective,’' said Donald Schneider, who is spearheading the standards-setting effort for the National Council for the Social Studies.
In addition to history, geography, and civics, Mr. Schneider said, the social sciences expose students to such other studies as sociology and economics. He said students need to learn about the range of related study areas, from a unifying perspective, in order to become well-rounded citizens.
The place of social studies in the curriculum has long been a subject of debate among educators.
Some critics, claiming the social sciences are a “soft’’ discipline, advocate making history the focus of such studies. Specialists in other disciplines that typically fall under the social-studies rubric say their fields get too little attention.
Competing or Complementary?
The national education goals adopted by the President and the nation’s governors in 1989 call for “world class’’ standards only in history and geography and allude to civics.
And the U.S. Education Department has since sanctioned and helped fund projects to set standards in those subjects--efforts in which the social-studies group is also assisting.
The prospect of national social-studies standards, however, raises the question of whether educators will be faced with competing curricular visions.
“Whether they’d be competing or complementary, I don’t know,’' said Susan Munroe, who is directing standards-setting efforts in geography. “I would hope they’d be complementary.’'
“I do know geography was very much lost when it was ‘umbrellaed’ in social studies,’' she said.
However, Mr. Schneider, the interim director of the school of teacher education at the University of Georgia at Athens, said the new standards will mean more choice for educators.
“All we’re saying is this is the N.C.S.S.'s perspective, and we lay it on the table with all the others,’' he said. “If school systems, states, or individuals and schools want to choose some from history, some from geography, and some from ours, that’s fine.’'
Mr. Schneider said the 25,000-member group will provide from $30,000 to $50,000 for the project. Already, the group has put together an 11-member task force to guide its efforts and has outlined a process, which, like the other standards-setting efforts, is aimed at achieving a broad national consensus.
The panel includes teachers, district-level curriculum coordinators, specialists in the field from higher education, and teacher-educators.
Draft standards will be reviewed by national panels of teachers, N.C.S.S. members, and outside organizations, including business and community groups. Student focus groups and educators from 800 precollegiate schools will also provide feedback. The standards are expected to be completed by November 1994.
A version of this article appeared in the October 14, 1992 edition of Education Week as Social-Studies Educators To Develop Own Set of Standards