Why Do We Learn Social Studies In School?

The Mindful Educator

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On the first day of school every year the question of “Why do we learn history and Social Studies?” always comes up. Sometimes I flip the switch and I ask them why we learn this subject. I teach 7th and 8th grade U.S. History and the comments that come up are, “Why do I care about what happened 100 years ago?” “Why do I care about old white dudes who are dead?” “How I am going to use this stuff in real life?” Well, they have a point, don’t they? Many people find Social Studies extremely boring and useless. My mission in my career is, for students to understand why they learn about their past. My goal is to never have Social Studies be their favorite subject but, as long as they appreciate it I feel that I completed my purpose.

My response to all those comments and questions is “Learning about the past helps you become a better civilian for your country. We learn from the past to make our future better.” Now, convincing middle schoolers their opinion and knowledge matter for the future of our country is a challenge but, that’s the excitement of education! I explain to my classes that the way everything is down to them sitting in my class has to do with history. The way our society operates today is a direct result of historical decisions.

In my curriculum, I teach my students the good, bad, and ugly of United States history. Since I teach 7th and 8th grade Social Studies, I teach my students about the Native Americans to the Civil Rights Movement. Throughout that time frame, our country went through a lot. We had great successes but, we also committed major crimes against humanity. It is crucial people know both sides.

Social Studies class is a self-improvement session and the “self” is this nation. When people are going through self-improvement, self-awareness, self-love practices they acknowledge what makes them a great person. People use verbal affirmations, journaling, and self-care routines. People also much acknowledge their toxic traits to improve their quality of life. Some people become sober, some people take anger management classes, or some people make a lifestyle change. In my class, that’s how we observe our countries actions.

During my lessons, we often praise the United States for it’s “Starting from the ground up”. Our founding fathers created a new government from scratch, which focused on “We The People” leading the government. The words of affirmation that is mentioned many times are “The land of opportunity.” “ Land of the free, home of the brave.” “Democracy!” “ Let freedom ring!” “ Don’t tread on me!” “Give me Liberty or give me death!” “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness!” etc… The students’ journal about our country’s strong performance throughout history when they write essays and DBQ’s. The self-care routines are experienced when student’s go to sporting events and the national anthem is always sung.

The United States has a unique origin story! Colonists in the 13 colonies felt oppressed by King George III because they were taxed without a say, they could not expand on to land they won from the French and Indian War, and they were being controlled by a king who did not care about their well-being. King George III just saw the colonies as a money pit. So, the colonies declared independence! No colonies had even tried to do this yet in history. Then that declaration transitioned into a revolution! The colonies filled with minutemen took on the most powerful nation in the world at the time and won! With the help of coarse of the French but, still! Then the United States needed to create a government from scratch that focused on a balance of federal and individual rights that we still abide by today in the Constitution! Those founding fathers thought of everything…kind of. Our nation then started its journey toward a world power! We gained street cred on the world stage during our Industrial Revoltuion. We had cars, planes, lightbulbs, oh my! Which created an influx of people immigrating to the United States seeking job opportunities and a better life! We grew our world influence during Imperialism! We helped our allies during WWI and then we celebrated our wealth during the Roaring ’20s. We had a major economic depression in the ’30s but, we gained wealth back creating war supplies during WWII. Then, we fought for democracy and against the Nazis and fascism!

Our nation created a saying “All men are created equal.” Unfortunately, that left out many people in our new nation. The saying truly meant “Wealthy white men are created equal.” Now, it’s time to self evaluate. Students’ self evaluate our nation during debates and discussions. The creation of the nation caused a genocide of the Native Americans who were already here! Don’t’ even get me started on Christopher Columbus. This nation took their land, forced them to live on reservations, forced native children to assimilate to American culture in missionary schools, many Native Americans were murdered, many battles were fought land with Native Americans, and left empty promises. While the founding fathers fought for freedom and liberty, they owned slaves. African people forced from their homes, sent over by ship, shackled, head shaved, branded, and dehumanized. They were taken to a new land to be sold as property. Many Africans passed on the journey over to the new world because they were packed liked sardines at the bottom of the ship. Families were separated, and people were mentally and physically abused on plantations. Meanwhile, their owners were calling for revoltuion from oppression. The United States shows many moments of hypocrisy.

Our country fights the Civil War and slaves are finally free but, African Americans are still fighting for equality to this day. We are a country of immigrants and yet immigrants tend to be criminalized. Our nation started as a colony demanding freedom and then we colonize places around the world during Imperialism. African American soldiers who were overseas during WWII were treated better than they were in the country they were fighting for. They were fighting Nazis and crimes against humanity meanwhile they were fighting Jim Crow Laws in the South.

These are all the perspectives you learn during a Social Studies class. If you didn’t discuss these topics your teacher did you a major disservice. Students learn about civics, rights, economics, laws, society, warfare, along history. In Social Studies you learn about how your country came to be the way it is and how it works. You learn about your rights and how to advocate for a better future. Yes, you learn about those old white guys from 100 years ago because they created the rights you have today. The Constitution, you know the law of land is a living document. Our government can add amendments throughout our history, which it has. That way our laws stay up to date with our society’s needs.

Just look at 2020 as a whole. So much history was made this year. We saw how our government operates during an impeachment. We learned how our health care system is set up. We saw the balance of power between federal and state governments during the pandemic lockdowns. We were shown how civil rights play a role in society with the Black Lives Matter movement. We observed the fluctuation of our economy. We witnessed the first woman of color being on the vice-presidential ballot. When I’m 46 in the year 2040, the 2020 chapter will be a thing.

You learn Social Studies in school to become a stronger civilian in your country. You know your past, you know your rights, you know how to advocate for change to make the future a better place. You learn you have the power, you have a voice, and you have the right to praise this country for its wonderful attributes to the world, and acknowledge the aspects that need reform. That’s the beauty of our nation, we the people can discuss those issues and make a difference. Now, I know I did a brief overview of both the good and bad parts of our history. Be sure to do more research on your own to create your perspective. That’s the interesting part about history, it all about perspective.

“The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for him/herself, to make his own decisions, to say to him/herself this is black or this is white, to decide for him/herself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally want is a citizenry which will simply obey rules. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish.” -James Baldwin
Orginally Posted on Medium.com in "Age of Awareness"

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The introverted extrovert educator sharing her stories of going through life. Let’s survive and thrive together! IG:@TheGrowthMindsetGal & Twitter:@ Romaniello612

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