Much to my dismay and disappointment, I have discovered that the high schools in Horry County now teach their American government courses and economics courses on a 9-weeks basis. Each used to be taught on an 18-weeks basis, one full semester devoted to each course.
I assume that block scheduling has prompted this diminution of instructional time devoted to two courses which are not only required for a high school diploma (one-half Carnegie unit each) but are also the essential foundation of any curriculum that has as its purpose a deep and sustained commitment to citizenship education. Whatever the culprit, the decision to reduce instructional time in these courses gives short shrift to sound academic arguments against such a move.
This begs the question: How is this reduction in instructional time not a retrenchment from a commitment to civic education?
It is just these kinds of decisions that reinforce the argument some of us in the field have made for years, that social studies courses are becoming marginalized in the curriculum.
Whatever the rationale, the math on this change clearly supports the argument that there is no time equivalency.
Under the scheduling system used prior to block scheduling, each government course would receive 82.5 hours of instructional time, as would each economics course.
Under block scheduling, each of these courses receives about 15 hours less instructional time, at least three weeks of lost instructional time.
What signal does that send? Why is this important?
The purpose of public schooling becomes the preparation of the system’s charges for the proper execution of the duties and responsibilities of republican self-government.
Civic education becomes they system’s raison d'etre.
The fundamentals of this kind of education are first of all a strong knowledge base, complemented by skills and habits of mind which enable the effective application of that knowledge in a student’s public and private roles - and adequate instructional time to impart the same.
Mine is not a plea to give social studies courses a preeminent place in the school curriculum. It is a plea for better balance.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former Colorado governor Roy Romer said it best in an article entitled, “Not By Math Alone,” published several years ago in The Washington Post. They argued that “[p]reserving our democracy should be reason enough to promote civic learning. But there are other benefits….”
They acknowledged that economic and technological competitiveness is crucial, but they were quick to point out that “…America's economy and technology have flourished because of the rule of law and the ‘assets’ of a free and open society. Democracy has been good for business and for economic well-being. By the same token, failing to hone the civic tools of democracy will have economic consequences….We need more students proficient in math, science and engineering. We also need them to be prepared for their role as citizens. Only then can self-government work. Only then will we not only be more competitive but also remain the beacon of liberty in a tumultuous world.”
Citizenship education does not exclude emphasizing math and science, nor does it seek to denigrate those areas of study. But, it does ask these questions:
Math and science education to what ends? Totalitarian? Technocratic? Oligarchic? Democratic?
The obvious answer to me is democratic ends. How the curriculum is
constructed and the subject-matter it emphasizes (or fails to emphasize) help determine how these questions are answered.
Let’s work on a broad general education before we turn to specialization. Otherwise, the cart if before the horse.
The writer is a retired school administrator and teacher who, during his 41 years in education taught government courses at the secondary, undergraduate and graduate levels.