“An Open Letter to President Barack Obama from C. Frederick Risinger” by C. Frederick Risinger. Social Education 74(2) pp. 338-339. 2010
I chose to read this article because I was browsing through the NCSS publications and stumbled upon this one. I noticed it was written in 2010, so I thought it would be interesting to look at how the content of the letter may have changed from then to now. This letter was short, so I supplemented it with thoughtful reflection and further research about the Department of Education and national social studies initiatives.
In this letter, Risinger, former President of NCSS, responded to President Obama’s call for more focus on science and mathematics in education. Risinger acknowledges the importance of these subjects on the American economy and in industries, but he calls on Obama to take a stand in upholding and protecting social studies education.
3 things I want to remember (inspired from the reading):
- 1. An advisory committee for social studies education can be created in one of three ways: “By law—statutory; By executive order of the President; and By agency authority.” (US Dept. of Education). Although people often say that the President has no power, he legitimately reserves the power to create such an advisory board that would work to promote social studies education across the country.
- 2. In the 1990s, as the standards movement was emerging, the NCSS created a Task a Force on Social Studies Standards. In 1994, they created a “National Standards” document which was “used widely as a framework for social studies educators as a curriculum alignment and development tool” (NCSS). Since then states have created their own social studies standards, and there are also national initiatives that have arose to provide a guide for states. In 2007, a new Task Force began to reexamine and update the NCSS Standards according to current research. These have three parts to them: ten themes, learning expectations, and examples of classroom practice. (This information comes from the NCSS website, written by President Steven A. Goldberg 2010-2011 – http://www.socialstudies.org/standards/preface)
- 3. Social studies education matters! “I have never seen such political animosity; inability to work together, name-calling, and extreme polarization…even in the 1960’s during the anti-Vietnam War era. I have never seen such political apathy among our student-age population – an apathy that extends to all ages. I have never seen such unwillingness to enter into discussions of issues and agree on policies that are in the best interests of all Americans. I believe that a major factor in this deterioration of what I term as pluralistic citizenship behavior is the marginalization of social studies/citizenship education in the pre-K-12 curriculum throughout the nation.” (338) It’s pretty amazing to me that many of these issues can be corrected in the classroom alone (only with adequate and effective social studies educational curriculum, of course).
2 controversial things
- 1. “A recent academic study of time spent on various subjects areas in K-6 classrooms found that nearly 32% of students were receiving only 25 minutes of social studies/citizenship education per week.” (338) this number is astonishing! It is no wonder that many students come into secondary level education with no “backbone” in social studies. This puts heavy pressure on middle and high school social studies teachers who have to not only reach certain standards, but have to provide most of the basis of these students’ social studies background.
- 2. Why, even six years after he wrote this letter, is there still no commission, presidential or not, on social studies education in the U.S. Department of Education? This department has plenty of other important commissions – listed below – that are great to have, but I can’t wrap my head around why there isn’t one for social studies. In order to have active, informed citizens, it is critical to provide individuals with background knowledge and skills related to the field of social studies. Risinger even pointed out individuals who could co-chair the commission – all the executive office would need to do would be to give the “ok”.U.S. Dept. of Education boards and commissions:
- Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Advisory Board
- National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity
- National Advisory Council on Indian Education
- National Board for Education Sciences
- National Board of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education
- President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
- President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans
- President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence For Hispanics
- President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities
- Operational Committees
- Commission on Presidential Scholars (CPS)
- National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation
- Independent Organizations Affiliated with ED
- National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB)
- 1. Will our new president (Clinton or Trump) care about social studies education at all? What will they do to promote the interests of social studies?