Where’s Abe Lincoln?

LincolnThe new College, Career and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards, released on Constitution Day, is “avowedly, even proudly, devoid of all content,” writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly. What it’s got instead is “inquiry.”

Nowhere in its 108 pages will you find Abraham Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King (or Martin Luther), a map of the United States, or the concept of supply and demand. You won’t find anything that you might think children should actually learn about history, geography, civics or economics.

Instead, you will find an “Inquiry Arc,” defined as “as set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content.”

Turn to table 23 on page 49. This has to do with “causation and argumentation” and purports to be part of the inquiry arc as applied to history, in particular to “dimension 2,” dubbed “causation and argumentation.”

By the end of grade 2, “individually and with others,” students will “generate possible reasons for an event or developments in the past.” (That event might be World War I, or it might be the day grandma dropped the turkey on the floor.)

By the end of grade 5, they will “explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.” (Let me tell you what happened after Susie smacked Jamie.)

By the end of grade 8, they will “explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past.” (Actually, she said she hit him for two reasons.)

And by the end of high school, they will “analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.” Now we’ve moved from “explain” to “analyze,” and we’ve added “complex.” But, as throughout the entire document, there is no content whatsoever. No actual history.

“Many state standards in social studies are overwhelmed with lists of dates, places and names to memorize – information students quickly forget,” said Susan Griffin, executive director of the National Council of Social Studies. The new framework will stress . . . wait for it . . . critical thinking.

More than half of students scored “below basic” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam in civics, notes AEI’s Rick Hess. “Most college graduates can’t identify famous phrases from the Gettysburg Address or cite the protections of the Bill of Rights.”

If our “national experts” can’t bring themselves to come out and just say “Kids should know when the Civil War was” it’s not clear that “an inquiry arc of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements” will help kids find out.

He wonders: “Just what it is that students are going to think critically about.”

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:

    You see, if you actually taught children *facts*, they might at some point tell their rulers that they (the rulers) are mistaken.

    • Leaving us to wonder if the lack of content and the ability to point out that those in power are wrong is a bug or a feature.

      This “inquiry arc” schema may have been tested on rhesus monkeys, but they haven’t established that it translates to human kids.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    You don’t need to know “lists of dates, place, and names” but you do have to know how they fit together. You need a framework and you need the important facts. When you know how things fit together, you find it easier to remember the facts and to learn new ones.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      An armature, a framework, is good. Helps remember things and their relationships and importance. But you do need something to hang on it. Facts.
      You can’t conceive of a framework about facts without the facts. It’s possible to have random lists of kings, say, but, afaik, all teaching, all expository writing, attempts the framework. Must have both and the reflexive opposition to just the facts presumes random lists of something or other with no attention to relationships, iow straw man.

      • There is a real difference between high school students today, and I suspect most of us. These kids are living their lives constantly connected to the internet, and it it feels natural to them to rely on it for things like names and dates. These kids not only have no interest in memoring historical facts, and see no point. To them it is like reading an analog clock or writing in cursive…useless skills they resent us for forcing on them at best.

        I am troubled by this, but I don’t see a way back.

        (Just a note, my students are literally outraged by the fact that I have never owned a cellphone)

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Perhaps those kids would have resented having to learn anything at all, back in the day.
          When my wife taught in a small town in the Seventies, near GM plants, the HS kids would say they don’t have to graduate, they don’t have to learn anything, they’re going to “go into the shop”.
          With some kids, the resentment is independent of their technological connections.
          Besides, until they know a certain amount, they don’t even know who or what to look up.
          Ex. I know a bit of milhist, but wanted to say something about post WW I, and had to look up the Austro Hungarian Empire. Without the first, the question to be answered by looking up the second wouldn’t have occurred to me, nor would the subject.
          So the idea that they can look up anything means that somebody has to ask a very specific question whose relevance and connections will still be a blank.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            “until they know a certain amount, they don’t even know who or what to look up.”

            Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

            That’s your framework. And then you have to know a certain amount to make sense of the facts you look up.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I agree. The important facts and how they fit together form the framework.

        The problem occurs when there are lots and lots of facts to memorize and the kids don’t see how the facts fit together. Because in that case, they pretty much forget them after the last exam. Which is what seems to happen now.

        (An alternative possibility is that they do get a framework but they forget that too, because they just aren’t that interested and don’t use it after the course is over.)

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Suppose a framework is…I dunno…an example of a value. An example of what happens when something dumb–that everybody likes–is done. IOW, a point, a construction of how the world is constructed, or how the world works.
          For example, late in his life, George Marshall lamented five wars we’d gotten ourselves into by ignorning readiness. Or at least been on the back foot when we got involved, which costs.
          If you line up the facts he posited, you are making the point, the framework, the military preparedness is useful and valuable and tenure probably won’t protect you. I kid, I think.
          So anything which seems like a lesson, something requiring application, possibly unpleasant, might be rejected.
          You don’t assign king lists by themselves. It’s part of the entire picture, presuming you require memorizing king lists at all, so they’d be on the framework.

  3. In a discussion of these standards a colleague said the following:

    With these standard no one can be wrong?

    So Johnny what do you think caused the Civil War?
    Answer “because America won the Revolutionary War.
    Thank you Johnny for that insightful answer.
    You get high grades on originality ’cause it’s certainly the first time I have heard that answer.
    You also get history chronological points since the Revolutionary War did occur before the Civil War.
    You also get geography points realizing the Civil War was on American soil and so was the Revolutionary War.
    Johnny you are so brilliant.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Wally. It appears that hypothetical kid may deserve the kudos, as a good many of his age-mates may not be so well-educated.

  4. After a while, you wonder if these people aren’t really malicious, rather than simply misguided. I know it’s always best to consider incompetence first, and only conspiracy last, but these people are pushing it.

    Let’s take the war in Iraq. If one were supposed to do some sort of analysis on this situation and its analogs in history, one would have to know history in order to find the analogs. You might want to look at public response over time to the Vietnam war or you might want to draw analogies with the response of democratic Athens to the adventure in Syracuse. An educated person would use their general knowledge of these situations to inform their research.

    What would you do, however, if you had no general knowledge? Research ALL of history? Try and come up with a Google query that would find the analogs for you?

    I just tried Google: you can indeed find links to people making analogs with Vietnam (and others denying there is a similarity). However, you won’t find the Greek example with any query I tried. Indeed, ALL you will find with such queries are existing opinions. If you want to put forth anything original, Google cannot be your starting place.

    This seems to hold for all academic endeavor: original thought cannot, ever, be googled, it requires real knowledge.

    Anyone arguing otherwise is either misguided or actively trying to limit the way upcoming adults will think.