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Anti-social studies

By Bernard Chapin
web posted October 27, 2003

I have still hold gleaming memories from college: the friendships I made, weekends of marathon debating, trips across the country, some wilder memories I won't go into here, and, perhaps most importantly, the ideas and minds to which I was exposed.

I attended John Carroll University, which was not a "great" university by the standards of US News and World Reports or the other media sources that regularly compare apples to Volvos in their yearly ratings of American schools. Yet, I fondly recall several of my classes and instructors as being first-rate. Back then, classes were fairly straight forward; professors talked and we listened. This was particularly true in history, which was one of my majors.

Dr. James Krukones was my favorite professor and I still remember the way he used to lecture and do little more in the name of audio-visual entertainment than to write words on the board. I still can see him writing "Krupskaya, Lunacharsky" and "NEP" on a weathered blackboard. However, it seems that his methods have fallen on disfavor today, and the fact that I learned so much from observing his non-pyrotechnic manner would make me a true outlier on any chart a modern day educator would display.

We know this to be true from the recently produced work, Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong?, by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. The best news of all is that it is available for free online. I recommend both the book and the site as the home address offers a multitude of other pro-bono publications concerning modern education.

Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? is an edition compiling several essays from the most maverick thinkers in education today. Names like J. Martin Rochester, Charles Finn, and Diane Ravitch are famous among school reformers and for good reason. They each present excellent arguments for what has gone terribly wrong within the discipline of social studies in America.

Much has changed in the education of educators in the present day. They appear to be no longer taught, but instead are asked to construct their own education. The same will later be asked of the pupils they serve. Direct instruction, which was the style Dr. Krukones' used, is now passé. Talking and expecting students to ingest ideas from your speech is considered a hopelessly anachronistic practice in 2003. Indeed, there is even one whole chapter devoted to the devaluation of teacher directed instruction and it is described as being the Rodney Dangerfield of educational practices because it gets no respect whatsoever.

Much of the information in this work will certainly surprise the layman. It is unlikely that those outside of the schools would ever think that social studies would be on the rapid decline due to statewide assessment. It appears that teachers often concentrate periods that would have been spent on social studies to the instruction of math and the language arts. That way they can "teach the test" which will annually judge their students and vicariously judge them as well.

Most of our readers will not be disappointed to discover that we have paid a price for our societal emphasis on politically correct multiculturalism. Let's take Africa for an example. The tragedy of Rwanda, many will be happy to know, is being taught in the schools. However, the angle of the lesson used is quite bizarre.

What is the main thing emphasized by one text in regards to Rwanda in the mid-nineties? Is it that 800,000 were slaughtered in a pointless war which is just another example of the darkest aspects of human nature? No, that would be too obvious. The textbook stressed that all the men who died in the war paved the way for women to gain true equality and realize the rights that they deserved as they had to take over many areas of national employment. We also are informed that it was colonial influences that caused that particular inter-tribal war–even though there were no colonial influences in the area for many years at the time of the horrendous massacres.

In regards to Japan during World War II, the "scholars" eagerly offer up Japanese internment as a way of addressing the Japanese culture. They stress this, difficult to defend, act of FDR's while wholly ignoring the Rape of Nanking. Internment was definitely a blight on our nation's past and an offense to Japanese-Americans, but it definitely distorts the student's knowledge of Imperial Japan if their soldiers' rape of innocent Chinese women is washed away into the China Sea.

What of mighty Islam? Well, the lies are wholesale here. As you might expect, the slavery found in the Sudan has no place in the coursework of today and is usually not mentioned at all. That would be too controversial. The Muslim concept of dhimmitude is also not addressed. Dhimmitude refers to special rules that apply to Jews and Christians in some Muslim countries as a way to make them fifth class citizens. If educational texts speak of dhimmitude at all, it is only in reference to those rulers who decreased it. The references do not include extreme examples of it in the world today. The writer for this chapter opines that the restrictions of dhimmitude make Jim Crow laws look lenient in comparison.

Relativism is currently rife within the field of social studies. We now teach students to respect diversity even in regards to unconscionable acts. The book's treatment of tolerance is one of the strongest in the entire work:

Tolerance is an admirable quality. But if it is our sole universal value, are we not then called upon to tolerate the intolerable? And if so called upon, are we even capable of performing such an act of mental jujitsu? In fact, the pressure not to apply moral standards is more likely to produce an ethic of "indifference" than one of true tolerance—as young people learn not to pass judgment on all kinds of horrendous practices, especially when they are non-Western. In trying to suppress what is probably a natural human tendency (to judge), these students are more likely to become morally numb, certainly not "sensitive" to the "Other."

This is the perfect summation of the way in which relativism has corrupted our social fabric. People are no longer allowed to judge right from wrong because to do so would be to judge and to judge would be to embrace intolerance. This fosters in students a "who cares" attitude as nothing is better than anything else so why bother even thinking about it at all.

I have first-hand knowledge that many university instructors who are entrusted with the position of teaching teachers attempt to manufacture social activists as much as they attempt to graduate competent educators. I can still remember the time I walked into a classroom and was deflated to see that the instructor before me had left a recommendation for the students to read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Such a book obviously gels well with progressive views of capitalism and the free market economy.

Within many social studies classrooms across the land, students are asked to critically think about events about which they know little. Two chapters, "The Training of Idiots" and "Ignorant Activists" outline the dynamics of how rarely our students are asked to learn about events and facts before they asked to psychoanalyze them [my phrase-BC].

It may well be that social studies is the subject progressive education has damaged the most. Indeed, one has to wonder how thrilled early progressives would be had they lived to witness the equality inherent in every student knowing practically nothing. How titillated they'd be by the frenetic swinging of "the leveler's ax" in so many school houses.

We cannot always see the results of miseducation, but masses of citizens who are ignorant about our history and the nature of our democracy will, by definition, see little reason to defend it. In a future crisis, some may have cause to remember Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? Although most likely, with the students we are rearing today, they will find little value in dwelling in the past or examining any lessons that history has to offer.

Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago. He can be reached at bchapafl@hotmail.com.

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