National Council for the Social Studies Conference Reflection

We just returned from the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference, November 22-23, in St. Louis, Missouri. It was an exciting conference for us (Sarah, Nancy, and Denise) at the Center for Global Awareness because for the first time we had an exhibit booth! It was fun to have all our books on display, brochures, bookmarks and business cards ready to pass out, and to chat with many of you who passed by.

Denise, Nancy and Sarah (right to left) at NCSS conference booth.

Denise, Nancy and Sarah (right to left) at NCSS conference booth.

In our last blog we promised to write about our observations and reflections on the conference. Here goes.

1.  Denise was particularly attuned to some of the workshops offered in World History and was amazed at the number and quality of the many lesson plans, documents, games, and readings that a wide variety of educators offered. She also found that there is a plethora of world history textbooks, readers, and supplemental resources for world history students and was happy to see that World History has replaced Western Civilization as the preferred history course in many schools across the country. There are even some schools that are subsuming U.S. history into world history. One of the strands for the NCSS is Global Connections, truly an indication that we are globalizing the U.S. curriculum.

2.  Despite all the latest technological applications and clever activities, the framework for teaching world history is essentially unchanged. Most are based on a strict chronological periodization scheme with nine “big eras” organizing the divisions or a chronological plan based on Western events, such as the conquests by the Roman Empire or the achievements of the Renaissance.

3.  In many corners, there is an assault on the world history textbook, and all textbooks in general. It seems as though many recognize that the one, all-authoritative book to guide student learning over a year’s time is not the best way for students to learn. However, this raises the concern that those who discard the textbook and replace it with assorted resources and lesson plans will leave students in a confused state of not having context to what they are learning. This is precisely where our holistic world history model comes in. It provides an easily grasped framework for learning world history. The supplemental resources that teachers accumulate can be easily plugged into the model.

4.  Now more than ever it seems vital that we take what we have learned in history and use that knowledge to examine issues today. All too often we are not allowed enough time in our world history classes to discuss contemporary history and the future. That means more than a wrap-up week at the end of the year.  We encourage educators to use the ideas presented in the Global Wave in our holistic world history to more deeply explore the world today. The transformative view especially highlights many of the positive ways people around the world are structuring a global society.

5.  We noted that there were many more economics resources available than in years past, including the Federal Reserve which offered many resources and several workshops. Unfortunately, other economic views are not provided as counterpoint. Many resources provide students with the tools to make a budget or balance their checkbook but do not explain why jobs are disappearing and the American middle class way of life is eroding. Our books on the global economy and financial literacy fill in these gaps in providing a realistic portray of the global economy.

6. The Common Core State Standards frenzy was in full evidence at this conference. It appears that so much of educators’ time is gobbled up with complying with the standards that other things such as relevant content, engaging students, figuring out why students are lacking in basic skills, and other vital issues are shoved to the side. Also, the world of testing has paralyzed many educators into fear of trying something new. While the distraction of the CCSS and testing is occupying teacher time, there is a quiet movement to privatize schools and commodify curricula by for-profit commercial interests.  All the more reason our nonprofit approach is an essential alternative resource for educators.

7.  There was a lot of interaction between K-16 educators at the conference. It seems a good two-way communication of knowledge to all the various parties in providing an education to our youth.

To wrap up, we would like to share with you what we learned at the conference about what we at CGA can offer the educational community.  You may think this is too self-serving, (it is a bit) but it is also heart-felt and reflects the direction that we think many of you able and dedicated educators are trying to steer.

We listened closely as you told us about your teaching of world history. Many of you were concerned that your students were lost in a sea of facts and information and not grasping the context or big picture. Some said the traditional approach to world history was male-dominated and did not offer a female perspective.

Our holistic approach to world history is a paradigm shift, a fundamentally different way of looking at world history. The information is essentially the same, but the way it is organized is different: holistic, cyclical, using systems thinking, and emphasizing the environment. 

The famous St. Louis arch on a sunnier and warmer day

The famous St. Louis arch on a sunnier and warmer day

We came away from the conference with a renewed sense of energy and commitment, and thankful for all that we learned. On a light note: Sarah learned that the balls of her feet throbbed after wearing her boots with heels all day, Denise learned to check to make sure her earrings matched (she wore two different ones all day Saturday), and Nancy learned you can’t wear just a shawl when walking to get lunch in St. Louis on a wintery November day.

On a serious note, we found a real “hunger” by a small group of educators who want to change the traditional approach to the Social Studies subjects they teach. Some of the issues they voiced were about teaching sustainability, alternative approaches to the economy, learning from folktales, including women’s perspectives, deemphasizing wars and political history, holistic ideas, global perspectives, alternative forms of assessment.

It was interesting as an exhibitor to note the people that came by our booth to talk with us. You all had a twinkle in your eye, a look of curiosity and commitment. You intelligently articulated your concerns and needs. All three of us were in awe of your dedication to teaching and doing it well. It encouraged us to work hard at CGA to spread this message of a paradigm shift and form a community of educators committed to this goal. We are reminded of a quote by Margaret Mead that many of you may have already heard but seems appropriate to end this blog:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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