One of the scariest things I’m learning at this conference is the extent to which some public elementary schools in California have done away with social studies instruction completely because the kids are not tested on it until the later grades. No test, no need for knowledge, right? Of course I understand that with the hideous ramifications of high-stakes testing some teachers and administrators are panicking and only “covering” the subjects they feel they are accountable for. The good news AND the bad news is that more social studies testing is on the way. But to hear that some teachers are having to secretly SNEAK social studies and history lessons into their day and, even worse, are being reprimanded if they are caught, sounds like something out of Orwell. As if understanding our history isn’t an integral part to EVERY subject we teach and every book we read and every moment of the day from when we wake up to when we fall asleep. But no time for my soapbox, I’m off to my last three sessions and then I’m hightailing it back to L.A. And despite learning more about the ugly effects of No Child Left Behind and all of the Bush administration’s negligent education policies, it’s fantastic and wonderfully reassuring to hear about all the great things that ARE happening in California thanks to amazing social studies educators, especially those with vision, guts, and stamina.
Sometimes you hear these slips that make you stop and really think about what kids are picking up in our classrooms. Someone in a session was talking about medieval Europe and how to relate that to kids’ lives today. In discussing what was going on here at that time, she commented, “Oh, but that was before we had any history…” TEACHABLE MOMENT ALERT! On the other hand, I am glad that the PC Police are cooling their jets a bit these days, I remember a time when some people advocated dropping European history completely in favor of underrepresented groups which is insane. I went to a session called “How To Teach About Religion Without Losing Your Job” which was excellent but got very heated and emotional. One man kept pointing to a Muslim woman in the room whenever he spoke about Islam, and she rightfully stressed that this is exactly what teachers should NOT be doing in the classroom, calling out and making assumptions that their Muslim students are somehow representing the entire Islamic world and its complexities. The presenter talked about the time when social studies educators were so skittish about religion that they thought they should wipe it out of the curriculum completely just to be safe. Of course this led to the most absurd misunderstandings about historical events and time periods since religion, for good and ill, is deeply embedded into the very fabric of world history.
As I sat in many of these sessions I kept noticing that there were so many more men in attendance than women (as opposed to many other teacher conferences I go to). So then I’d make myself do a head count and I was consistently surprised to discover that, in fact, there was still a majority of women in the room. What made it seem like it was mostly men? Maybe it’s just because I was able to find a bathroom. At the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) conference that attracts tens of thousands of people, the women hold such a majority that they take over all the men’s restrooms rather than wait hours in line. I usually have to beg them to let me in! I hope those teachers show the same kind of strength when they are asked to make ridiculous curriculum decisions to the detriment of their students.