For some reason I got to thinking about the term "Social Studies" the other day. Like many high schools, my school doesn’t have a History Department anymore, it has a Social Studies Department. We still teach a full complement of history courses, but we also teach Psychology, Sociology, Government, Cultural Geography, Economics, Law and other courses. So as I was thinking about this I decided that perhaps I should put my broadband connection to work and look up the definition of “social studies.” Here are three that are similar, yet still offer some interesting takes on the matter (in each case, emphasis added by me so that I can talk more about it below):
- Social Studies: A group of instructional programs that describes the substantive portions of behavior, past and present activities, interactions, and organizations of people associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes.
– National Center for Education Statistics
- Social studies is a term used to describe the broad study of the various fields which involve past and current human behavior and interactions. Rather than focus on any one topic in depth, social studies provides a broad overview of human society past and present.
- Social studies is the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence . . . The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.
- National Council for the Social Studies
Past and present activities.
Organizations of people associated together for [various] purposes.
Human society past and present.
Informed and reasoned decisions for the public good . . . in an interdependent world.
And then I wondered, how many "Social" Studies Departments in high schools around the world are teaching a course on the socially revolutionary and transformative age that we find ourselves in? (Or even at least discussing it in an existing course.) As Clay Shirky talks about in Here Comes Everybody, group forming is ridiculously easy and we are still in the very early stages of a change that rivals the development of the “Print Culture” that arose in the centuries following the invention of the printing press. Aren’t the societal changes we’re seeing as the result of technology and the Internet specifically, as well as other flat-world factors, the essence of what "social studies" is about?
Now, I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t teach history or all those other courses – there’s tremendous value in those as well. But does it strike anyone else as odd that my school – and I imagine most schools – aren’t teaching this stuff? Can’t the case be made that these changes are at least as important for our students to learn about, immerse themselves in, understand and begin to figure out the impact of as it is to learn about other great themes in history? Isn’t today’s "networked society" one of the greatest transformations ever in how we define and understand "social" and "society?" If so, then shouldn’t Social Studies Departments everywhere be scrambling to include this in their curriculum?