Social Studies teachers…

Can I ask a question to my friends who teach social studies? How do we feel about the election? Not about who won or lost. Not about the politics of the election but about how people do not actually understand a lot of the concepts we taught in class. I say we because I know I taught it. I remember going over in 7th grade, 11th grade and 12 grade participation in government class the basics of elections at the national level. I remember discussing the electoral college. I remember discussing the need to respect every person. Even if their opinions disagreed with our own. I remember reviewing the old New York State standards for social studies, where we talked about geography and economics and history. Later, working for State Ed, I remember reviewing the new social studies frameworks, the ones the Content Advisory Panel and I helped create.

Reviewing the run up, election, and post-election has caused me to want to reflect on a 15 year career in education. We teach quite a bit about the electoral process in New York state. In fact, it is part of 7th grade, 11th grade, and our 12 grade Participation In Government course. Students who graduate from a NYS school have been at least exposed to the process. In the post election hub bub, many people were confused about the presidential election process. They were bewildered at the whole “She won the popular vote, but lost the election?!?” How often has this happened ?!? There have been other times that I have run into a situation when intelligent people don’t remember or understand a logical point about history, or government, or economics.

Lets mention geography for a minute. I love geography. I love historical geography. I love maps. As a kid I used to pull out and study the National Geography maps. As a teacher I was obsessed with making sure students had maps and used them. As a kid, I loved using maps in Boy Scouts, and understanding the keys and the meanings of the legend. On a family vacation to Chicago, I helped navigate us from the suburban hotel to the museums of Science and Industry. Everywhere we went as a family, and now as an adult, I use maps and alternative paths to reach my destination. Google maps are fun, but I can out navigate a GPS unit (or so I think!). But so many people I know do not understand how to navigate with maps.  Many students hated the map questions on the Regents exams. Granted the black and white doesn’t help, and I have long advocated SWDs taking the exam be given colored copies. Now with computer based testing in NY, I hope the maps are colored. My classes were challenged to explore information in maps.

Maybe I failed, personally, as an instructor in communicating key points to my past students. Maybe there is too much info to learn in social studies. Bain, in his book “What the Best College Teachers Do” describes really good college teachers feeling like a failure if their students did not do well. After the election, I feel that my time in the classroom was for naught. Many American citizens do not understand the foundations of our democracy. This is disconcerting to say the least. As a member of the CDCSS, a former NYSCSS and NCSS/CUFA organizations, I am pleading with my fellow teachers to dig deep and reflect on how we teach participation. With election turnouts in primaries at very low levels and almost 45% of eligible voters not voting, something is failing us.

Americans want to participate, we like to participate. We will respond to web polls, Facebook and survey-monkey polls. We will vote for an Idol, and someone who has talent, but we don’t like to vote for our leaders. How do we drive that participation? How do we make voting a sacred duty that our founders, and our service people fought and died to give us?

I voted. I voted out of a sense of duty. I voted out of an obligation. I voted because I wanted the right to participate in the process. I voted because my Paternal Great Grandfather wanted to do his duty during World War I, but couldn’t because he had just immigrated. I voted in honor of my Grandfathers, and Great Uncles who fought in World War II. I voted in honor of my in-law uncle who served in Vietnam. I voted in honor of Scouter Bill Wisniewski, who fought in Vietnam. I voted in honor of my students, my friends, my classmates who served and continue to serve in US action in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and around the world. I voted in honor of my Brother in law, an Iraqi vet. I voted in honor of Isaac Nievies, who lost his life in Iraq, one of my students from Sidney. How do we instill a sense of pride, of honor, of duty, of deeply caring?

How do explain difficult concepts to understand? One such resource is the NCSS, where my good friend Dr. Lawrence Paska is the Executive Director. There are a ton of resources available there.  Use those resources. Use resources from your League of Women Voters.  Go to Rock the Vote. 

Do what ever it takes to inspire students to become active in civic engagement and participation. Now, in 2017, lets make an effort to improve civic literacy as Chancellor of the Board of Regents has stated is so important. 


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