Current social studies curriculum is a mile wide and a quarter-of-an-inch deep, according to a committee developed by the Hall County Board of Education, aiming to narrow the focus and increase the depth of that curriculum.
Chaired by Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, the 14-person group composed of a mix of teachers, parents, politicians and other stakeholders met for the first time Wednesday to discuss its goals for revising the social studies curriculum currently being taught in the county school system.
Miller said he feels social studies needs to be placed on an equal status with other subjects.
“My personal opinion is that much of the social studies curriculum got pushed out of the system because of our emphasis on the STEM subjects, the science, the technology, the math,” Miller said. He added that U.S. students are compared with those in other countries in math, science and similar subjects, which is why “it was natural” to emphasize those topics.
“Also, I think ... the blend of our current society has changed now to some extent because there are many parents that are first-generation Americans,” Miller added. “First-generation citizens who didn’t have that knowledge and background when they were growing up, so how can they teach their child? So that’s why I think the schools have to take a larger role in social studies education.”
The committee’s ultimate goal is to have students graduate high school with a deeper understanding of what, exactly, it means to be a U.S. citizen.
Initial comments ran the gamut from students not knowing who the Founding Fathers are to the Pledge of Allegiance not being emphasized enough in the current curriculum. Parent Alana Rochester said she had noticed at football games there was not proper respect being shown for the American flag or the national anthem.
“People are talking, people are walking around, people have no clue that you’re supposed to take your hat off,” Rochester said. “That’s very basic, but something that I noticed from the very beginning is not taught.”
She went on to add if students are being taught history and information on those topics, they should also be taught why it’s important they learn those lessons.
Acknowledged at the meeting was the issue of standardized testing, and that teachers often are basing their instruction on what will be covered on exams such as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
“Until someone decides how to design tests that don’t rely on multiple choice, one-word answers, then we do have a disconnect between what we believe is important to teach and how our children are tested,” said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said there is some testing, like the SAT, that counts toward a student’s future, but he said sometimes the outcome and final scores on certain tests are not as important as what is learned in the classroom.
“At the fourth-grade level ... if (the school board decides) that some of these ideas of what it means to be a U.S. citizen and what is actually inside the U.S Constitution and Bill of Rights is not being covered enough, and it comes at the expense of some of the rivers in the Middle East, I think they’ll say, ‘You know what, you go ahead and emphasize what we locally have decided what’s important,’” Schofield said.
“And if it costs us six CRCT points, then we’ll take the loss of the six CRCT points. I think we’re at that point where we’ve got to be willing to make those decisions, and I think our community will respond to that.”
In addition to the review committee, surveys were sent out to a select number of parents, teachers and community members asking them to rank the “big ideas” in the current social studies standards.
“I wasn’t at all surprised that the two groups ranked them almost identically and thought the same things were important,” Schofield said.
The No. 1-ranked item was having an understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, while the second item was defining the rights and responsibilities of being a U.S. citizen.
The committee will meet again next Wednesday.
By that time, the members have been asked to go through the social studies curriculum and make recommendations as to what they think are the most important points at the elementary, middle and high school levels in the fields of government and civics, economics, historical perspectives and geography.
The plan is to present recommendations to the school board by Dec. 1.
Once the recommendations are made and have been approved by the board, an internal team will develop an implementation plan for consideration.
The Hall Board of Education decided to review social studies curriculum over the summer, and approved the committee at its August meeting.
Also in August, Gov. Nathan Deal requested the state board of education review the statewide social studies curriculum, asking to include teaching civic and fiscal responsibility to students.
It is currently working on that plan and timeline.