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Does everyone now agree that quality social studies instruction is a priority? | READER COMMENTARY

A Barrington Middle School parent shows her feelings before speaking during the Barrington (Illinois) School District 220 board meeting on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Parents voiced concerns about masks and vaccinations for children, sex education, mental health support and critical race theory (H. Rich Bamman/Pioneer Press).
A Barrington Middle School parent shows her feelings before speaking during the Barrington (Illinois) School District 220 board meeting on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Parents voiced concerns about masks and vaccinations for children, sex education, mental health support and critical race theory (H. Rich Bamman/Pioneer Press). (H. Rick Bamman / Pioneer Press)

The Baltimore Sun article, “Teaching debate digs into history” (August 1), highlights how a broader culture war is playing out in local school systems in Maryland. Specifically, a fear of how “critical race theory” might be showing up in classrooms.

Underlying this polarizing conversation is an area of agreement. All voices care deeply about social studies education and believe in its importance for a democratic society. As the article noted, “Maryland’s standards for teaching U.S. history and civics are considered by experts to be balanced and of high quality,” but standards mean little if teachers are not afforded the time, materials and preparation to teach them. Marylanders would benefit from considering not just what students are meant to learn about the past, but if systems provide them the opportunity to learn it at all.

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Federally mandated assessments have prioritized math, English and science and reallocated resources away from social studies. The annual survey of social studies teachers conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education shows a 40 point drop in respondents indicating that they provide daily elementary social studies instruction. Limiting time spent in elementary social studies impacts growth in the subject area and in reading development. The 2020 study released by the Fordham Institute found that students who were provided 30 minutes of elementary social studies each day saw a 15% increase in their reading comprehension scores. These results held consistent across subgroups, including students from low socio-economic communities and English language learners.

One of the central purposes of public education is to create an informed citizenry to support our democratic republic. Allowing ourselves to be distracted from this common belief prevents us from protecting every student’s right to learn about civics, history, geography and economics. In doing so, we are eroding the strength of our democracy: its people.

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Maryland lawmakers could support young learners by drafting a bill to protect instructional time and resources for social studies in the early grades. Parents can ask their local schools about scheduling decisions. Students can share their learning experiences and speak out about providing time for every kid to learn. Behind the rancor is something that unites, rather than divides us as Marylanders. Let’s push for our state to be a leader in this current civic debate over social studies education by giving schools and teachers the tools they need to protect it.

Leah Renzi, Baltimore

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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