Thursday, May 20, 2021

The Ohio K12 Social Studies Wars

Since the start of the 2021 Legislative session on January 4th, there have been four bills introduced in the Ohio State House concerning what students learn in K-12 social studies. These political “turf wars” are nothing new, as special interests and competing camps on both the right and left battle over what history and social studies content should be taught in classrooms (Evans, 2004). For instance, did you know that under the Ohio Revised Code it is illegal for Ohio students to learn World History before American History in school? While many of you may know Ohio students complete high school graduation exams in American History and Government, did you know it is illegal for the state to administer an exam in World History?


The four bills being debated as of this posting are:


  • House Bill 327 prohibits the state’s social studies educators from “teaching or advocating divisive concepts” on race, color, nationality, or sex in the classroom.
  • House Bill 322 which outlaws and bans the use of Critical Race Theory in social studies, and makes illegal mandates for social studies teachers to discuss controversial issues or current events.
  • Senate Bill 1 which requires social studies teachers to have a newly created state endorsement, in addition to a state social studies license, to teach a financial literacy course required of high school students for graduation
  • House Bill 73, which blends the teaching of American History and American Government to prepare learners for a combined American History and Government state high school graduation exam. Many in education believe this would result in a “Super American Studies” course.


The bills above double-down on the state’s conservative political agenda where traditional American History, American Government, the Founding Documents, and Personal Finance account for up to 83% of the learner’s social studies instructional time. 


Other subjects like World History, Global Studies, Geography, Ethnic Studies, Black History, Sociology, Psychology wage battle for the remaining 17% of instructional time scraps for electives. The state’s social studies curriculum does little to prepare its youth to engage new perspectives and learn about the bulk of the world’s population, 96% lives outside of the U.S. Anyone else find irony in Ohio trying to create a world-class education system without actually teaching about the world and its people? It is disappointing that in the midst of a historic global pandemic, where one nation acting alone cannot tackle this or any other global issue, our state has built walls and barriers to true global learning. After all, social studies is the subject most at the center of preparing youth for citizenship education for an increasingly global and multicultural society.


Holocaust Memorial @ Ohio Statehouse. The Holocaust is taught in World History Learning Standards

In my graduate and undergraduate courses, in social studies education, we explore the different “camps”, philosophies, and movements that defined the teaching and learning of social studies in the nation’s schools. Obviously, the content we teach children, especially, in history and social studies, has and will be contested. Key debates include: Should social studies focus on the traditional disciplines of History, Geography, Government, and Economics? Or, should there be a more integrated approach, somewhat of a “social stew”, that blends these disciplines when exploring social issues and movements? What about using the social studies classroom to promote American exceptionalism and national allegiance or social justice and global/multicultural learning?


The political tailwinds of a deeply contested 2020 election, and conservatives' rejection of using social studies to help prepare youth for an increasingly global and multicultural future, are stamped all over these four bills and the state’s curriculum. Republicans have dominated the Ohio Statehouse, and their respective Primary and Secondary Education subcommittees. With victory comes its toils as conservatives set out to write/rewrite what students learn in social studies classrooms. 


History has shown our nation’s social studies classrooms are a foothold in enacting a political agenda focused on what future citizens should know, think, and believe. Look no further than the State of Ohio as proof.


Social studies teachers, don’t forget to get your copy of the Ohio Learning Standards in Social Studies, which include your very own “Make America Great Again” hat.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Our Social Studies Sputnik Moment: A Message from the OCSS President


Presidential Address by Dr. Brad Maguth

October 14th, 2019
Embassy Suites, Dublin, Ohio

As President of the Ohio Council for the Social Studies it is my pleasure to welcome each of you our 63rd Annual Conference. The Ohio Council for the Social Studies is the state’s premier voice for social studies teachers in Ohio. This includes fighting for a robust, rigorous, and inclusive social studies learning experience in Ohio’s schools and communities. Your membership and attendance at this year’s conference supports our network’s critical work.

As first reported in the Atlantic in 2016, I believe we are entering our nation’s social studies “sputnik” moment. On October 4th, 1957, the Soviet Union officially became the first nation to launch an artificial satellite (named Sputnik) into low Earth orbit. In the midst of a global Cold War, a period of history that pitted two ideologically opposed nuclear-armed states against one another, the Soviets had the technological, interstellar edge. Soviet scientific superiority posed a direct threat to the democratic ideals and values the U.S. stood for. Soon afterwards, mounting criticism over the U.S. education system grew, and over 4 billion dollars of National Defense Education Act [NDEA] funding poured into advancing math, science, and engineering, in the nation’s schools.



While the Cold War waned after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a new threat has emerged working to undermine the health and vibrancy of U.S. democracy. Since the signing of No Child Left Behind [NCLB] in 2002, research clearly demonstrates deep national and state cuts in the teaching and learning of history, civics, and social studies. The CCSSO reported that 44% of districts surveyed reduced social studies instructional time since NCLB. Locally, OCSS’s higher education faculty found in a 2015 white paper that nearly 40% of state principals interviewed felt there was less curricular attention to social studies since the suspension of the 5th grade Social Studies Ohio Achievement Assessment. A 2017 report from the Education Commission of the States, shows urban schools that serve mostly low-income, students of color are often afforded fewer and lower quality social studies and civic education learning experiences due to an increased curricular focus on tested subjects.

With the decay and marginalization of social studies in our schools, research shows civic literacy levels are dismal. In a recent Annenberg survey, more than two-thirds of Americans could not name all three branches of the federal government. Only 26% of millennials say that free elections where citizens choose their leaders are important features to a democratic society (Foa & Mounk, 2016). When asked in a 2011 World Values Survey whether a democratic government is a good or bad way to run a country, about 17 percent said bad or very bad- about a quarter of 16 to 24 said bad or very bad. Today’s hyper partisanship, broken politics, poor civic discourse, and growing civic apathy have only been fueled by significant cuts to the subject in U.S. schools most predicated on advancing the nation’s civic readiness and interests, namely, the social studies.

I believe we are entering a great civic education awakening, or, our nation’s social studies sputnik moment, where lawmakers and educators with clear eyes understand the value of jump starting social studies teaching and learning in classrooms and communities. Much like the NDEA which supported STEM education in 1958, today’s times demand greater state and national investments in social studies. A strong social studies prepares young people to be reflective citizens that value liberty, democracy, free and fair elections, the separation of powers, a free press, diversity, and to understand the rights and obligations afforded to them under the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.
In social studies, students gain experiences that help them recognize the true genius of a representative democracy: One where people are free to dissent, to criticize, to protest and publish, to join together and assemble in common cause, to hold their elected officials accountable, all features that exemplify democracy’s magnificent capacity for self-correction. Today’s times necessitate the passage of legislation, policies, and programs that curtail devastating cuts made to social studies education, and immediately moves to invest critical resources in the teaching and learning of social studies to better prepare young people to protect and strengthen this nation’s fragile democracy. Our nation and state’s future depends on it.

Thank you for all that you do to bring social studies to life for Ohio’s students, and always know you have a trusted partner in the Ohio Council for the Social Studies. On behalf of the OCSS Executive Board, I am wishing you a wonderful annual conference.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Problem from Hell: Inside America’s Classrooms and the Teaching of the Holocaust


Remarks provided to the Women's Club of Sandusky 

Huron, Ohio
April 23rd, 2019

 Image result for holocaust poland

Thank you for that kind introduction, and it’s an honor tonight to speak to the College Women’s Club of Sandusky. My first teaching job out of College was just south at Western-Reserve Local Schools, and my first apartment was right down the road in Huron, Ohio. Sandusky has always held a special place in heart, especially, since my partner Joey’s family continues to reside here.

Special congratulations to tonight’s high school scholarship award recipients, and to the College Women’s Club for making these gifts possible.

In 2017, I was selected by the International March of the Living as one of its six inaugural faculty fellows. Apparently, I had been nominated for this honor by a few of my peers attesting to my work in community building with the LeBron James Family Foundation.

I still remember when I received a phone call from the organization’s director, David Machlis. He informed me that this yearlong commitment would allow to me conduct extensive research on the Holocaust and in Holocaust Education, visiting with scholars in Washington DC and throughout Poland.

Honestly, as a fifteen year history and social studies teacher and researcher, and being a cheap date, David had me at free trip to DC and Poland! The rest of the conversation focused on what to wear, along with some discussion of my itinerary. After all, who really knew what an inaugural faculty fellow was anyway?

In early spring of last year, the six selected faculty fellows (including myself) from around the U.S. came together for the first time at George Washington University in DC. We stayed in D.C. for six weeks before our travel to Europe to reflect on Holocaust readings, interview accomplished scholars, and meet with Survivors. Most of our sessions took place at the United States’ Holocaust Memorial Museum, a space dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

When you walk into the Museum, in its large Hall of Witnesses, you are greeted with a large banner that reads, “This museum is not an answer, it’s a question” a quote by Elie Wisel. Today, friends I need to open with the same disclaimer, that my presentation centers more on questions than answers. Questions that push us to consider why antisemitic incidents surged 57% last year in the U.S.? What makes the anti-human attacks in churches in Sri Lanka, at a Temple in Pittsburgh, at a Mosque in New Zealand, and at a dance club in Orlando possible?

After all, inquiry begins with just one compelling question. In an age where 24/7 cable news pundits spew all the answers, where people seek affirmation over information, infotainment over substance, I would contest the health of our shared democracy is only as strong as the vibrancy of the questions we ask. So with the few minutes we have today, I would like to propose two questions:                                                    
                                            
Question 1: What do students learn about the Holocaust in school?
Question 2:  Why is teaching the Holocaust important?

As for the first question, What do U.S. students today learn about the Holocaust in school?

I believe America’s schools are its last, best hope in helping us advance civic responsibility and engagement.  By civic engagement, I mean defining and imparting what the obligation of one stranger is to another. After all, there are powerful lessons history can tell us in answering these civitas’ calls; especially, as citizens of a democracy in an increasingly global and multi-cultural age.

Schools are a unique space where all of the nation’s children come together across so many differences- like race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, and ability- in order to gain enduring understandings that not only improve their quality of life but mold and advance our communities.

As I’m sure most people in this room know, the Holocaust was a genocide during World War II in which Nazi Germany, aided by local collaborators, systematically murdered 11 million people- some six million European Jews and about 5 million “undesirables”-  including Communists, disabled Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals between 1941 and 1945. Not only did the Holocaust shock the conscience of humanity, but it largely impacted the creation of the United Nations and a march globally to better protect human rights. Survivor stories often live on through their writings (Elie Weisel, Promo Levi, & Ann Frank) and as depicted in Hollywood portrayals (Boy in Stripped Pajamas, Schindler’s List, & The Pianist).

Research tells us that people inside and outside of the U.S. differ in their awareness of the Holocaust.

In the U.S.
  • In 2017, the Claims Conference and Yad Vashem randomly interviewed 1,350 adults. Reported findings include:
    •  93 % of all respondents believed youth should learn about the Holocaust
  • However,
    • 31% of Americans (and 41% of millennials) believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust (actual number is around 6 million)
    • 66% of Millenials can not say what Auschwitz was
    • 52% of Americans believe Hitler came to power through force
Content Standards:
  • In Ohio, only 1 reference to the Holocaust (10th grade, Modern World History elective)
    • “Oppression and discrimination resulted in the Armenian Genocide during World War I and the Holocaust, the state-sponsored mass murder of Jews and other groups, during World War II.”
Textbooks:
  • History textbooks have been critiqued many times over the years (Michael Apple, James Loewen). During the 1950s, when the number of victims of the Holocaust had come to light, textbooks were no longer including Holocaust content. The Cold War deemed it necessary for U.S. schools to prop up Germany as a defender of freedom against the advance of Communism, the spotlight on German persecution of its Jewish population was dimmed. CHRISTOPHER WITSCHONKE research concludes, “it appears that a purposeful 'Curtain of Ignorance' towards the Holocaust fell across U.S. history textbooks during the Cold War.

For a second, I would like to compare the teaching of the Holocaust in the U.S. with its teaching in Poland’s schools (the epicenter of the Holocaust's destruction). Even when the Holocaust is taught, we see its politicization (Wounded by History)

The Polish Anti-Defamation Law sponsored by its Law and Justice Party recently enlists a jail term for anyone that accuses the country of being complicit in Germany-Nazi crimes during World War II. The legislation criminalizes any mention of Poles as being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich. Jan Grabowski’s book, “Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland” finds that the systematic murder of 90% (or 3 million) of Poland’s Jews could only have been possible through Polish neighbors being complicit in their murder. Steven Katz, Director of Elie Wiesol Center, notes in his research that non-Jew Poles eagerly rounded-up and even murdered local Jews in advance of Nazi German invaders- in hopes that it would give them special favor and clout with incoming Nazis. Some even argued, “By killing Jews I saved other Polish lives… Kill a few to save those important to you.” This included the death of 1,600 Jewish residents in the summer of 1941 by their neighbors in Jedwabne. These same Poles also profited by looting the homes and property of their Jewish neighbor.

As Buguslav Milerski notes in his research, all Polish students (for better and worse) are required to learn about the Holocaust in their history classes. His research across 71 junior high schools (which is compulsory) indicates that:
  • Only 30% of students reported visiting a school sponsored Holocaust memorial site.
  • 32 % reported that Jews were somewhat at fault for the Holocaust (“they were like sheep” North Korea and Diary of Anne Frank)
  • 1/3 of respondents noted that Poles did Not engage in acts of hostility towards Jews during WWII. 
Maddalena Gross research notes, current political conditions have resulted in Polish classroom teachers providing a “misguided” view of history, one where German Nazis targeted all Poles equally. This only kindles the current flames of anti-semitism and neo-Nazi propaganda in Poland.

Survey: Who suffered more during WWII under Germany occupation, Poles or Jews? The major responded Poles. Polish history textbooks tell the story of heroic Poles that by and large helped their Jewish neighbor during the war. This is evident for anyone that has ever visited the Oscar Schindler factory in Krakow.

However, this is not to say that there weren’t non-Jews in Poland that risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination. During my research, I met Jerry Rawicki (now living in St. Pertersburg, FL). Jerry was a courier for the Polish Underground in the Warsaw Ghetto. In April, 1943, he participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. At age 15, during the uprising, Jerry was able to sneak out of the Ghetto through a tiny opening in the wall- four removed bricks. Once out, he managed to befriend a 17 year-old Polish boy at the beach. They exchanged boyhood stories (i.e. disdain for school, their luck with girls, and wisecracks). Eventually, Jerry confided in the 17 year-old boy that he was a Jew. The boy took Jerry home, and with his mother’s permission (not dad), allowed him to stay in their family’s cellar at night. After the war, Jerry found out that this boy and his family had been hung/ murdered by the Nazis ([Janusz Rybakiewicz would latter be identified by Yad Vasham as a Righteous Amongst the Nations).

Question 2:  Why is teaching the Holocaust important?

I believe teaching the Holocaust can be a meaningful entry point for schools and communities to promote global learning where youth audit their own perspectives, while examining different perspective in order to confront prejudice, discrimination, and oppression. For instance, Why did the United States not do more to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust?

On the evening of Nov. 9, 1938, a wave of violence against Jews swept across Nazi Germany, one that would result in hundreds of Jewish synagogues and businesses being destroyed and tens of thousands of Jews being sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht, or “Night of Broken Glass,” had shocked the world and nations were encouraged to immediately act to save lives.

Some of you may be familiar with
  • The St. Louis: In May 1939, the German liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 Jewish refugee passengers. The United States and Cuba were unwilling to admit the passengers. 254 of these passengers were killed in the Holocaust.
  • In 1939, before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, New York City’s Madison Square Garden hosted a rally to celebrate the rise of Nazism in Germany. Inside, more than 20,000 attendees raised Nazi salutes toward a 30-foot-tall portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas
  • In 1940 the Wagner-Rogers Bill, an effort to admit 20,000 endangered Jewish refugee children, failed in the U.S. Senate. Despite the fact that about 1,400 Americans had written to Congress offering to adopt refugee children. Later in the same year the U.S. admitted 5,000 children from war-torn Britain.
  • Hitler was time magazine’s Person of the Year in 1938. Significant funding to his campaign and the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party came through U.S. automobile tycoon Henry Ford. Funding for his eugenics research came through the Carnegie Foundation and Rockefeller Corporation. In fact, U.S. conglomerate IBM was fully aware and profited off of Nazis using their equipment to “generate lists of Jews and other victims, and register and track inmates at concentration camps”. As author Edwin Black notes, there was an IBM office (Holleritch Abteilung) in every concentration camp. Jacques Pauwels indicts other US companies complicit, such as Kodak, General Motors/Opel, and J.P. Morgan Chase Bank.
  • In 1944 upon learning about the Killing Centers in Europe the U.S. decided not to bomb these facilities. Despite heavy U.S. bombings of IG Farben’s synthetic rubber and oil factories less than five miles away from Auschwitz- Birkenau. Thus, the gas chambers and crematorium went untouched. U.S. leaders felt such an attack would lend support to Hitler’s proclamations of this being an Allied war to save the Jews, resulting in lessened support for the war back home. Allied efforts were instead focused exclusively towards winning the War 

Germany Nazis weaponized science (pseudo science), weaponized the media via boisterous propaganda, even its schools and universities to cultivate an Aryan Race, establish the Third Reich, and institutionalized murder. You may ask who were these murders?  A Polish school principal, and Holocaust survivor, Chaim Ginnott, described penned this in an open letter:

I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.

In fact, this experience as a faculty fellow, has forced me to wrestle with this question “why is teaching the Holocaust important?” both professionally and personally. Thus, I constantly ask myself “How can I draw from the lessons of the Holocaust to improve civic life?” To be a better researcher, teacher, neighbor, even stranger?

After all, as a child in Krakow reminded me, “they still live”. It is true that most of the Nazis and their Holocaust collaborators have been buried deep underground, but they are not dead. Events like Charlottesville, the assassination of Gdansk’s “tolerant mayor” in Poland, and rising global extremism, remind us of the need to be vigilant and attentive toward injustice and hate in our world.

Now What?  My plan in choosing to act includes leading 15 professional educators to Poland and Germany in a few weeks to learn how science and economics were of the Holocaust.This course aims to prepare teachers as civic leaders, to better understand and confront hate in all its forms. The good news however is you don’t have to leave the shores and islands of Northern Ohio to chose to act. I invite each of you you to journey with me in asking, “Why is teaching the Holocaust important?” There is no better time, especially, with Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) next week, May 2nd.

Thank you for you for having me here today.





References

Black, E. (2001). IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation. New York: Crown Books.

Pauwels, J. (2017). Big Business and Hitler. Toronto, ON, Canada: James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers.

Ellis, C., & Rawicki, J. (2013). Collaborative Witnessing of Survival During the Holocaust: An Exemplar of Relational Autoethnography. Qualitative Inquiry 19(5) 366–380.

Rawicki, J., & Ellis, C. (2009, July 1). Oral history interview of Jerry Rawicki by Carolyn Ellis. Retrieved at https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1154&context=hgstud_oh

July 2009 Jerry Rawicki oral history interview by Carolyn Ellis, July 1, 2009 Jerry Rawicki (Interviewee) Carolyn Ellis (Interviewer)

Grabowski, J. (2013). Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied PolandHardcover. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Claims Conference. (2018). New Survey by Claims Conference Finds Significant Lack of Holocaust Knowledge in the United States. Retrieved at http://www.claimscon.org/study

Witschonke, C. (2013).  A ‘Curtain of Ignorance’: An Analysis of Holocaust Portrayal in Textbooks from 1943 through 1959. The Social Studies, 104(4), 146-154.

Boguslaw, M. (201). Holocaust Education in Polish Public Schools: Between Remembrance and Civic Education. Prospects: Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, 40(1),115-132.

Gross, M.H. (2014) Struggling to deal with the difficult past: Polish students confront the Holocaust, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 46(4), 441-463.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cleveland Versus the World: Reflections from a Global Educator

As a kid growing up and living in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1980s and 90s, I had a front row seat to a battered, downfallen, and economically depressed city. The Cleveland Public School’s graduation rate was abysmal, at less than 40%, as jobs and opportunities fled neighborhoods. I was a John Marshall High School graduate, and looking back on my senior year pictures I always realize many of my fellow classmates dropped out and never crossed that graduation stage. I remember the long lines at soup kitchens and food banks as some of our closest friends’ families struggled to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomach. In the minds of many Clevelanders its families and economic mobility were under attack from invading forces that violently and unabashedly derailed and destroyed its economy. “Outsiders”, or, those not living in Cleveland, were viewed as the culprits. The further away from living in Cleveland the more at fault you were in this hometown civic imagination.  Those with power, especially, in Washington and Columbus, seemed unresponsive, cold, and distant to the #Land’s plight. Shattered factories, high unemployment, and urban decay remained while the rich and greedy moved wealth and opportunities overseas.

Image result for cleveland factories abandon

Neoliberal forces and free trade agreements were the munitions of the rust belt’s decay, and it soon became “Cleveland Versus the World” in the #Land’s civic imagination. Distrust only grew as locals raged that "foreigners stole our jobs” and crippled our city's economy. A mounting war on terror and events like 9/11 only reinforced hate, intolerance, and apathy towards those overseas. Anger flared amongst some locals as our nation ignored the dire needs of Clevelanders and “…gave millions of dollars to foreigners in aid.” It was Clevelanders versus the world, and only Clevelanders could be trusted. Cleveland, a once economic stall worth of this nation’s growth, had been counted out and forgotten by outsiders.

Image result for Cleveland vs world LeBron

As a global education instructor and researcher that just so happens to be from Cleveland, Ohio, today I still can’t help but take notice of the popular images, memes, and play of the phrase “Cleveland Versus the World”. Northeast Ohio’s native son LeBron James has strutted Cleveland Versus the World t-shirts, and in the 2016 MLBA playoffs made a guest appearance at Progressive Field to remind the hometown crowd over the public address system, “It’s Cleveland Versus the World”, with millions around the world watching.


In my teaching and research I’ve spent my professional career trying to break down silos of “us versus them”, while shedding light on the importance of students learning about, with, and for our world. Unlike any other time our world needs informed citizens ready to serve as actors on the global stage. Yet, in my own beloved hometown, division and distrust of “outsiders” has blossomed and bloomed. In an increasingly technological and global age what are the implication of this retreating and distrust of others? How do we create more equitable global systems and structures that make local people value the important role a healthy Cleveland plays in our world, and our world plays in Cleveland? More work in the area of global education is urgently needed; especially, as this disdain and distrust of “the world” infects other communities and evolves into slogans like “Make America Great Again.”  Let's work together to education globally minded citizens that fight to for a brighter, must just, and prosperous tomorrow in Cleveland and around the world.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

State’s Decision to Eliminate Exams Continues Marginalization of History and Civics Education

In order to sustain the health and vibrancy of our democracy youth must learn about, and be ready to take part in, the U.S. democratic and governance process. This is especially true in an increasingly partisan and politically fractured country. At the heart of the social studies is preparing all youth to emerge as informed and active citizens to undertake our nation’s highest and most mightiest office, that of “Office of Citizen”. Through a strong and meaningful social studies curriculum students learn about our state, nation, and world’s rich diversity, its history, and the many obligations and responsibilities that come with citizenship. Students analyze primary sources in order to grapple with complexity, use evidence to substantiate conclusions, and learn to take informed actions to improve our communities and world.  The social studies provides students with experiences investigate, contextualizing, and thinking through information sources of data, and these skills are paramount in an age of fake news, native advertising, and mounting propaganda. At the forefront of the social studies is empowering youth with curricular experiences that advance the art of deliberation, conversation, and statesmanship when interacting with the views of diverse citizens holding likeminded and dissimilar views.


Knowing that today’s increasingly partisan, multicultural, and technological age demands engaged and informed citizens ready and capable of sustaining our nation’s democracy, I was most disappointed that the state legislature and our governor decided in the recently passed budget bill to eliminate all required state elementary and middle school social studies exams. After all, only 70% of Cuyahoga County voters cast ballots in the 2016 president election (a letter grade of a D), while only 46% of 18-29 year olds showed up (F letter grade). Mandated state assessments in science, math, and language arts went unscathed and unaffected in this bill. Research indicates our current system of testing results in some subjects that “win” and others that “lose”. Subjects not tested often suffer from decreased instructional time, resources, priority, and staffing (Ravitch, 2010). Lawmakers did include in the same budget bill a very weak provision for schools to teach and assess social studies in grades four and six. However, there is no minimum instruction time specified, nor is there a state mechanism in place to ensure this is happening, as the law forbids schools from reporting any social studies assessment data to the Ohio Department of Education.

Unfortunately, our state’s decision to exclude and defund these elementary and middle grades social studies assessments are but one more example of a national trend of states disinvesting in history and civic education. Claus von Zastrow and Helen Janc, in a 2004 study, interviewed 956 elementary principals from four different states and found that almost half of all principals disclosed time devoted to social studies had moderately or greatly decreased due to it not being a tested subject, while the time spent on tested subjects had increased. In Ohio, local researchers found that time spent teaching social studies increased when state-mandated testing were re-introduced introduced (Doppen, Misco, & Patterson, 2008).

Image result for student exam ohio online

The frustration I share with hundreds of Ohio teachers is that social studies, again, has been disproportionally affected and marginalized when compared with other core subjects in the state. Like many families I believe Pk-12 students and educators are over tested in Ohio, which is a product of misguided school district, state, and federal policy. Reforms are needed at all levels to ensure students receive strong and robust learning experiences in all content areas. Instead of wasting millions of tax payer dollars on shoddy state tests in a few cherry picked subjects, meaningful investments should be made that yield greater results for student leaning; such as recruiting, preparing, and supporting high quality teachers, breaking down barriers that lay in their way, and restoring our trust in educators so they have the freedom and flexibility to plan and deliver high quality instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners. Instead of state lawmakers selecting winners and losers, and throwing band aids on a broken assessment system, Ohio should be at the forefront leading our nation to construct homegrown competency and performance-based assessments that model a meaningful and holistic assessment system that prepares all students for college, career, and civic life.

References

Doppen, F., Misco, T., & Patterson, N. (2008). The state of k-12 social studies instruction in Ohio. Social Studies Research and Practice, 3(3), 1-25.

Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York, NY: Basic Books.


von Zastrow, C. and Janc, H. (2004). Academic atrophy: The condition of the liberal arts in America’s Public Schools. Council for Basic Education. Retrieved from http://static.ncss.org/files/legislative/AcademicAtrophy.pdf

Friday, November 11, 2016

Social Studies Teachers as Front-Line Responders in Times of Civic Divisiveness and Distress

“Daddy, do we have to leave the country?”
-3rd grade Muslim student (Chicago, IL)


When the world seems to stop, people tend to turn to social studies teachers. I remember being in a classroom after 9/11 and my students looking forward to coming to our history class in order to make sense of the unfolding events. Who is Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and why do they hate us? What should our nation’s response be? In our  nation’s social studies classrooms, students found refuge and a safe-haven to discuss these events, our individual and national responses, and coping mechanisms and insights to better understand what was happening. I remember teachers and administrators also seeking out the support and counsel of social studies teachers. Administrators and teachers also felt the need to discuss this significant current event with someone who understood our nation’s politics, history, and economics. In fact, many administrators invited (as they still do) social studies teachers to organize school-wide assemblies and programming on civic responsibility and pride following the events of 9/11.

After a significant current event, divisive election, massive protest, or devastating man-made and/or natural disaster, the social studies classroom has served as, and will serve as, a form of “group therapy” and as information hubs for students, teachers, and administrators grappling with the events as they unfold. Social studies teachers become the “go to” front-line responders in schools as people try to understand, reflect upon, and make meaning of current events and issues.

Knowing a social studies teacher’s unique positionality in times of national civic struggle, it makes me wonder how social studies teachers are responding to the aftermath of the hotly contested 2016 election resulting in a President-Elect Donald Trump? The rhetoric and divisiveness surrounding this election was nothing short of intense, in particular the views and comments expressed by President-Elect Trump. While Mr. Trumps words may have been “political smoke” to win conservative votes, the truth is many people in the U.S. and around the world are fearful and scared. On November 9th (the day after the election), millions of Americans and their families woke-up and wondered what their place in this new America would be. Undocumented Mexican workers and their families are scared about the possibility of imminent deportation, Muslim Americans fear increased governmental surveillance and bigotry, African Americans are less convinced that Black Lives Matter, women continue to worry about their status and are fearful of heightened crude and abusive male attitudes and acts, and LGBT Americans and their families fear their rightfully awarded marriages and recognized family units will be dissolved. Below I report three examples shared with me the day after Election Day that will tug at most heart-strings and showcase examples of the real fear that exists in America following this election:
  • 3am  (shortly after election results are posted): A gay friend announced on Facebook that he and his partner of a year will be getting  married in the next few weeks; fearful that a President Trump will support Supreme Court Justices committed to dismantling and dissolving the recognized marriages of LGBT Americans. They are fearful the LGBT historic progress and protections made under President Obama will be undone.
  • 6am: A 3rd grade, native born Muslim student woke-up in Chicago and asks his dad who won the election. After his dad informs the youngster that Donald Trump won the election, the 3rd grader asks if the family is going to be deported out of the U.S. and lose his friends.
  • 3pm: A white female University student serving as an adult mentor to a black 6th grader in the Akron Public Schools informs me (her professor) that her 6th grader is crying and will not talk to her. The 6th grader had asked her mentor who she voted for yesterday, and the mentor reported Donald Trump. The black student felt she could no longer trust her mentor anymore, as a white adult.  For more stories of youth fear after the 2016 election click here.
After a divisive national Presidential election filled with hate-speech and anger, students and educators in our nation’s classrooms and communities need attentive and engaged social studies teachers, of whom are trained in the totem to civic education, the social studies. Their words, deeds, actions and in-actions matter, as people and families look for guidance and support. Characteristics of this support includes social studies teachers serving as culturally and content competent responders to help people understand, reflect upon, and make meaning of these events. Moreover, social studies teachers have an obligation to create a safe classroom space where diverse views, standpoints, and perspectives can be shared and discussed. Social studies teachers must model constructive and appropriate discourse, demonstrate a strong understanding of history/social studies content, provide students with the opportunity to delve into historical/social science documents and perspectives to learn for themselves the lessons of the past, and to have students take informed action in their communities to create a more inclusive and sustainable world.  For example, Jim Cullen, a high school history teacher in New York, described in the Hechinger Report (11-9-2016) how he was able to use his history class in helping to alleviate some despair and anxiety amongst youth following the 2016 election. Social Studies teachers must take great pride in the responsibility of serving as front-line responders in schools during difficult times of civic divisiveness and distress, and moreover, understand the significant obligations and necessity of being well-trained and prepared for this important task.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Global Education in the Age of Donald Trump, Brexit, and Rising Nationalism

Was I wrong? In 2009, I wrote in my dissertation that nations and their people are increasingly connected to a complex global system which there was and is no retreating. However, recent events like the Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and increasing nationalism around the world (i.e. China, Saudi Arabia, France, Brazil, Germany, etc.), could make one reconsider such a statement. Maybe, as Ross Douthat in the New York Times puts it, “From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists.” Judging from today’s political climate one could easily argue the nationalists/nativists have the upper hand.


As I was flying into China to begin my stay as a visiting faculty member at Henan University, mind you to help faculty promote global perspectives in their teaching, I came across two NY Times editorials on Globalism, one from the far left and the other from the middle right. ThomasFriedman (6-29-2016), a long time defender of globalism and free markets, tried to make sense of the Brexit and the rise of Trump. Friedman notes that “The pace of change in technology, globalization, and climate [has] started to outrun the ability of our political systems to build the social, educational, community, workplace, and political innovations to keep-up.” As a result of governmental failures to ensure these institutions keep pace, many citizens have been displaced, dislocated, and frustrated by these global forces.”  Instead of politicians focusing on the problem of offering meaningful solutions on how systems can be better reformed and adequately funded to ensure successful integration politicians focus on easier, weaker pray; namely, immigrants and globalism.  Friedman correctly argues, globalism and multiculturalism have built the world’s most prosperous and powerful states in the 21st Century. They attract the best talent, investment, and are the most stable. Instead of allowing these global and multicultural forces to destroy us and pull us part, key reforms should be made to use these forces (Globalism and multiculturalism) to promote global growth, stability, and peace.

In the same NY Times Edition, Senator Bernie Sanders (6-29-2016) explains why workers and the middle-class have turned their backs on Globalism and the EU by voting to Brexit. Sanders blames voters’ decision on their observing the richest in the country accruing great wealth, while experiencing a declining standard of living. Because of misguided policies and a lack of governmental regulation, Sanders notes Globalism has left the middle and lower class and their families further behind. Instead of making Globalism work for everyone, Sanders states, “the world’s economic elites (top 1%) now owns more wealth than the whole of the bottom 99%.” Vast income inequalities have resulted in frustration and rejection of an unfair global economy that seems rigged to only protect the wealthy and corporate interests. While Sanders doesn’t acknowledge the great gains that have been made through Globalism in alleviating global poverty in the developing world, he is quick to point out how workers in many developed countries have been displaced and affected through unfair trade policies. Senator Sanders argues, much like Friedman, for not throwing the “baby out with the bathwater” but better reforming the international system to protect all workers and their families, the environment, and to slash global gains in military spending.

"Reforming the international system to protect all workers and their families, the environment, and to slash global gains in military spending"

Was I wrong in my 2009 assertion, like many others that claimed nations and their people are and forever will be increasingly connected to a complex global system which there was and is no retreating? Instead of viewing Bexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and increasing global nationalism as a rejection of Globalism I agree with Friedman and Sanders in that it’s time we do Globalism better; namely, we reform our institutions to better reflect the increasingly global and multicultural world we live in. This means undertaking important governmental and grassroots reforms to ensure youth receive a high quality global education so multicultural citizenries in all nations are better prepared to protect workers and their families, our environment, and to promote peace and sustainability. This is the message stakeholders must take away from Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump, and rising nationalism. 


Unlike any other time in the course of human history our world needs educators that are prepared to teach with, about, and for a more just world (Maguth & Hilburn, 2015). Global educators understand how people, places, businesses, and governments are connected across the world. When politicians present easy answers like “keep all the Muslims out”, “build higher walls”, or “withdrawing from the global community” youth that have been grounded in a global education by their teacher ask the tough, hard-hitting questions in order to push back.  These youth understand that building walls and spewing divisive rhetoric against the most vulnerable in our society are never the answer, and instead opt to build bridges of understanding and engage in constructive diplomacy. Our world faces many serious challenges (i.e. alleviating global poverty, ensuring access to clean water, combating global extremism, ensuring gender equality, etc.) and instead of retreating or hiding, shouting hateful names, and pointing fingers, youth grounded in a global education see strength in our diversity and work endlessly for a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world for everyone. Now more than ever, the times demand global educators.

  
Note: This post was written while serving as Visiting Scholar at Henan University in Kaifeng, Henan Province, People’s Republic of China. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

House Bill 544: Ohio’s Strong Civics Standards and Performance-Based Assessments in Jeopardy?

Ohioans have made great progress in the past two years pushing back against an exhaustive amount of state testing mandated by the federal government; in particular due to the passage of No Child Left Behind (2002). Research clearly demonstrates that increasing time spent on testing forces teachers and students to sacrifice precious instructional time and dramatically narrows the curriculum (Wright, 2002; Ysseldyke, Nelson, Christenson, Johnson, Dennis,  Triezenberg, &  Hawes, 2004). Among the gains made in Ohio includes the homegrown development of rigorous new learning standards that promote college and career readiness. Educators, parents, professors, and stake holders from across the state have worked hard to create strong local standards for Ohio’s youth. These local standards, adopted by our State Board of Education, serve as a blueprint for new high quality performance assessments that are administered at different intervals in schools.  

Ohio’ civics standards and its accompanying assessments, through the hard work of local educators and the broader state community, are amongst the best in the nation. While this hasn’t always been the case, numerous standard and assessment revisions and updates have significantly enhanced our state’s ability to prepare the next wave of informed and active citizens. All of Ohio's youth are required to complete 1/2 unit of coursework in American Government. Our new state standards in American Government and its aligned performance-based assessments should be a source of local pride and distinction (much like our local NBA superstar LeBron James). Previous versions of our state’s American Government standards and its aligned assessments were poorly designed, limited in scope, lacked rigor, and fostered low-level/ superficial thinking. While these previous standards were initially drafted and adopted with great hope and anticipation, they never really got the job done or panned out (much like my beloved Cleveland Brown’s experience with their late quarterback Johnny Manziel).


I draw this comparison between LeBron and Johnny because recent events in Columbus could possible force our state to exchange its rigorous, relevant, college and career ready civic standards and accompanying assessments (i.e. LeBron James) for a low-level, superficial national assessment that is not aligned to Ohio’s local civic standards (i.e. Johnny Manziel). Recently, co-sponsors Representative Kyle Koehler (R-79) and Representative Al Landis (R-98) introduced House Bill 544 which would replace Ohio’s American Government End of Course and Performance-Based Exam with a low level 100 multiple-choice U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Test.  The Civics Education Initiative, supported by the right leaning, Arizona based Joe Foss Institute has been peddling the adoption of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Test, the same test required for immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship, for high school graduation to eighteen other states, with mixed results.

Additional tests, especially, those that promote low-level/superficial knowledge, steal quality instructional time away from teachers implementing Ohio’s strong civic standards which promote real-world civic engagement and community service. Ohio’s Learning Standards in American Government are centered on helping students understand how the American people govern themselves at the national, state, and local levels of government. Outside of understanding basic principles of U.S. Government and other founding documents, these standards call Ohio’s youth into action in order to engage in societal problems and participate in local government. Furthermore, students learn how the Ohio Constitution (1851) complements and interacts with the federal structure of government. Ohio’s youth learn how to engage in and make their voices heard in state government and in their communities.

The US Citizenship Test is by far the low bar, as it fails to be aligned with Ohio’s civic learning standards. I believe our youth, its schools, and our beloved Ohio deserve better. Our students deserve high quality, rigorous, and locally developed performance-based assessments (like those that have been piloted and tested for validity which are in-place). Ohio’s civic assessments and standards expose students to local and state government, instill local civic participation, and promote successful readiness for college, career, and civic life. Let’s hold onto and take pride in our LeBron James rookie card, a local hero and smart investment, and distance ourselves from those pitching us the Johnny Manziel card.

I encourage everyone to see this for themselves by comparing the two tests below. Which one is best aligned to Ohio’s American Government Standards? Which one demands critical thinking and the analysis of primary sources and founding documents?


References

Wright, W. E. (2002, June 5). The effects of high stakes testing in an inner-city elementary school: The curriculum, the teachers, and the English language learners. Current Issues in Education, 5(5).

Ysseldyke, J., Nelson, J., Christenson, S., Johnson, D., Dennis, A., Triezenberg, H., Hawes, M. (2004). What We Know and Need to Know About the Consequences of High-Stakes Testing for Students With Disabilities. Council for Exceptional Children, 71(1), 75-94. Retrieved at http://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/1622

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.