World Events Dominate Social Studies Forum
As world events stemming from Sept. 11 continued to unfold, some 4,000 social studies educators converged on the nation’s capital this month for a collective conversation on the immediate and long-term implications of the terrorist attacks against the United States and the resulting military response.
The news of recent weeks became a dominant thread throughout the 81st annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies. The Nov. 16-19 gathering featured more than 300 seminars and workshops on civics, economics, history, and geography.
Special sessions put together in the wake of the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and heavily damaged the Pentagon focused on teaching about Islam and the Arab world, using resources from the Internet and news coverage in the classroom, and the importance of character education.
Participants received recently updated maps, lesson plans, and other resources for teaching about Afghanistan from the National Geographic Society Education Foundation. The society accelerated its ordinarily lengthy process of revising maps to provide teachers and others with an accurate chart of the south-central Asian country and the surrounding region.
The Washington- based geographic society will donate 100,000 copies of the maps to schools through its Geography Alliance Network. The society also unveiled a “Land in Crisis” feature on its Web site this month, complete with interactive maps, photos, and lesson plans. The resources are available online at www.nationa lgeographic.com/landincrisis/education.html.
Educators instrumental in writing the voluntary national standards in geography are asking teachers for their suggestions for making them more effective for classroom use.
In anticipation of 2004, the 10th anniversary of the unveiling of the document, officials have been scheduling hearings around the country— including one here—to gather testimony from teachers on their use of the standards and their recommendations for improving them.
So far, teachers have primarily asked for aesthetic changes, according to James F. Marran, a consultant on the project.
Nearly identical in size and style to National Geographic magazine, the ambitious standards document is printed on 272 glossy pages illustrated with color and black-and-white photos, maps, charts, and graphs.
Teachers, according to Mr. Marran, have asked for scaled-down versions of the standards according to grade-level ranges.
“They find the document a little intimidating,” he said, voicing an opinion expressed by a number of educators when the standards were first released.
Mr. Marran anticipates that any update might break up the current document into several smaller versions that outline what students should know and be able to do in the subject. The standards may, for example, be repackaged in separate documents for elementary, middle, and high school students.
The 25,000-member National Council for the Social Studies, now based in Silver Spring, Md., is also working on revising standards, but for what teachers should know and be able to do. The council is scheduled to adopt new teacher standards next year.
More information is available from Charles B. Myers, the director of the Standards Assessment Criteria Project, at (615) 322-8100, or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Standards and guidelines for preparing for NCATE accreditation or reaccreditation are also available.
Approved in 1997, the current NCSS standards outline the subject-area knowledge and skills, as well as the pedagogical knowledge, skills, and dispositions, that the council believes prospective teachers should have before entering the classroom.
The document is aligned with the social studies program standards for institutions seeking accreditation from the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Revisions at this point are expected to be minor, but NCSS officials are asking teachers, teacher- educators, and others for their suggestions.
—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Reporter’s Notebook