Abolish social studies

“Social studies” — as opposed to history, geography and civics — was invented in the Progressive era to socialize children for a future planned by technocrats, writes Michael Knox Beran in City Journal.  It’s become dull, vacuous and a waste of time.  Abolish social studies!

Social studies is hostile to individualism, Beran writes. A 1931 social studies book for junior high school students condemned the U.S. economy’s wasteful lack of central planning and extolled Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan, which “resulted in millions of deaths from famine and forced labor.”

In the 1940s, as social studies took root in elementary schools, there were no more paeans to central planning. Paul Hanna’s texts were designed to teach children  “desirable patterns of acting and reacting in democratic group living.”

A lesson in the second-grade text Susan’s Neighbors at Work, for example, which describes the work of police officers, firefighters, and other public servants, is intended to teach “concerted action” and “cooperation in obeying commands and well-thought-out plans which are for the general welfare.” A lesson in Tom and Susan, a first-grade text, about a ride in grandfather’s red car is meant to teach children to move “from absorption in self toward consideration of what is best in a group situation.” Lessons in Peter’s Family, another first-grade text, seek to inculcate the idea of “socially desirable” work and “cooperative labor.”

Hanna doesn’t acknowledge “individual exertion, liberty of action, the necessity at times of resisting the will of others,” Beran writes. It’s group, group, group all the time.

Today’s social studies books are big on group spirit.

Lessons from Scott Foresman’s second-grade textbook Social Studies: People and Places (2003) include “Living in a Neighborhood,” “We Belong to Groups,” “A Walk Through a Community,” “How a Community Changes,” “Comparing Communities,” “Services in Our Community,” “Our Country Is Part of Our World,” and “Working Together.”

“Social studies textbooks descend constantly to the vacuity of passages like this one, from People and Places” aimed at third graders, Beran writes.

 Children all around the world are busy doing the same things. They love to play games and enjoy going to school. They wish for peace. They think that adults should take good care of the Earth. How else do you think these children are like each other? How else do you think they are like you?

Beran prefers the “old learning” which awakened children to their cultural heritage. McGuffey’s Readers introduced  eight-year-olds to Wordsworth and Whittier, nine-year-olds to tShakespeare, Milton, Byron, Southey, and Bryant and  ten-year-olds to Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Sterne, Hazlitt, Macaulay,  Pope, Longfellow, Shakespeare, and Milton.

In my younger days, I loved to read history. We didn’t study it till high school. Social studies consisted of memorizing the three principal products of every Canadian province and every country in Latin America. I also learned that Birmingham was the “Pittsburgh of Alabama” and the “Pittsburgh of England.” Malmo produces ball bearings.

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Comments

  1. Years ago the sociologist David Reisman (The Lonely Crowd) recommended that Social Studies not be part of the pre-college curriculum because, he suggested, many teachers would find the temptation to indoctrinate children irresistable.

    The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of “education”. The State cannot compel attendance at “school” or operate schools without a definition of “school”. I see three ways around the threat of partisan indoctrination: a) let government schools hire as many Jay Bennish types as they wish and offer vouchers or other tuition assistance to parents who opt out and define “school” for voucher purposes as any institution which teaches a curriculum defined as readingand Math and whatever else the parents want to buy
    b) let government schools hire as many Jay Bennish types as they wish and offer vouchers or other tuition assistance to parents who opt out and define “school” for voucher purposes as any institution which teaches a curriculum defined as readingand Math and some subset of a list of curricula so long that schools must select a small subset of subjects
    c) repeal compulsory attendance statutes, child labor laws, minimum wage laws, and tax support of school.
    or
    d) Parent Performance Contracting.

  2. If you want to know why the social studies textbooks are so silly, look no farther than most states’ social studies standards. Egads.

  3. What you learned in elementary school was decidedly not Social Studies although the school may have refereed to it as SS. It was Geography, a wonderful subject made boring by the Social Studies.

    A few of my courses are named SS but I teach HISTORY

  4. My older children have both remarked on how useful their high school history courses in US and European history were. “So many things make sense now!”