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?


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

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.