Previously, I wondered about the number of items in the NJCCCS (New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards) for Social Studies, and how that measured up against the number of days in the academic calendar.
On a side note, I’m now curious how many strands there are in the NJCCCS for Social Studies. I think I’ll count that up over the weekend, and then laugh at the idea that we can accomplish that with 3 years of Social Studies courses. My bet is that you’ve got at most 2 to 3 days per strand, spread out over the three years.
I didn’t get to it that weekend, but I did get to it this morning. It turns out my guess was pretty accurate. Here’s a count of the number of CPI’s (Cumulative Progress Indicators) that are in the NJCCCS for Social Studies (including the enumerated lists of topics within certain CPI’s):
- Civics: 39 enumerated topics
- World History: 82 enumerated topics
- US and NJ History: 83 enumerated topics
- Economics: 19 enumerated topics
- Geography: 23 enumerated topics
- Total: 246 enumerated topics
In New Jersey, students are required to take three years of social studies courses – a total of approximately 540 school days (assuming all 180 school days in the year are productive, which is a logistical impossibility).
Given 246 enumerated topics and a maximum of 540 school days, you’ve got a maximum of 2.19 school days to “cover” each enumerated topic.
Well, that sounds easy.
Introducing the NJCCCS
Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider what the NJCCCS are intended to be. Conceivably, these could be guidelines – suggestions for what could be considered “on topic” in a Social Studies classroom. In that case, you would feel free to pick and choose what to cover, what to focus on in depth, and what to ignore.
Here’s a selection of quotes from the pdf version of the NJCCCS (emphasis mine):
Educators and practitioners developed the standards to focus on the essential knowledge and skills that all students need to function effectively in American society. (F-1)
The CPIs include the essential core of social studies. Topics that are listed following the word “including” must be addressed in the local curriculum and taught. (F-2)
Pursuant to the statute, other historical events that represent the principles and ideals of United States citizens must be included. (F-2)
I’d say that clears up any confusion. The NJCCCS is intended to be the bare minimum of what students need. We can’t pick and choose – if anything, we need to include more.
Huh. The next time I run out of content to teach, I’ll keep that in mind.
Sending Mixed Signals
When I look at a list this long, I’m led to the inevitable conclusion: the state wants students to focus on content over concepts, retention over critical thinking. The demanded breadth of the curriculum invalidates any attempt at depth.
It seems strange, then, that the authors of the standards seem to be suggesting the opposite.
One of the objectives of social studies education, guided by these standards, is to, “Develop critical thinking skills which enable them to function as lifelong learners and to examine and evaluate issues of importance to all Americans” (NJCCCS, F-1). Critique and evaluation are time consuming activities – and it takes even longer to teach and encourage students to do these things.
“In order to assist students to reach this vision, school district programs must: [...] Promote the teaching of critical thinking but also include appropriate content knowledge; [...] Connect curriculum and instruction to assessment through the use of both traditional objective tests and performance assessments” (NJCCCS, F-1).
Looking at the amount of content mandated, I’d say that the reverse is necessary. The focus must be on content, and critical thinking needs to be an after-thought.
Furthermore, with 2.2 days to teach each topic, where is there time for performance assessments? In fact, where is there time for any kind of assessment?
The authors of the standards seem to be suggesting that social studies education should be focused on skill development and problem solving, and should be an introduction to the social studies rather than a complete survey of it. Yet the standards that they introduce make this impossible.
I think someone needs a lesson in backwards planning…
A Final Thought
With these preliminary findings on paper, I think I’ll let it sit for a bit. I need some time to reflect on these standards and their (un)usefulness before I continue this line if thinking.
Before I finish, though, there’s one last quote that I feel the need to deal with:
In addition, every board of education shall include instruction on the Holocaust and genocide in an appropriate place in the curriculum for all elementary and secondary students (N.J.S.A. 18A:35-28). (F-2)
Granted this is a matter of NJ state law – not simply the recommendations of the NJCCCS. Still, I find it strange that the Holocaust should be the only genocide mentioned by name. This gives the implication that the Holocaust is more important and should be taught first and foremost above other genocides.
Consider the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I vaguely remember images from Rwanda on the news as a child. My students were just being born as the conflict raged through central Africa. Just two weeks ago, the UN court convicted an officer of crimes against humanity and the conflict threatens to flare up again in the neighboring country Congo.
Or what about the Darfur conflict? News from the region has calmed to a simmer, but it was not long ago that the murder of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions made front page news. Among other great resources is the book They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, the memoir of three Lost Boys who escaped Sudan and came to the United States. I think it’s a story that our black boys would find far more relevant than the Diary of Anne Frank.
I don’t mean to belittle the Holocaust or the teaching of it. I only mean to suggest that if we are to address the topic of genocide in general, it might be wise to look at those that took place in our students’ lifetime and continue to occur today.