DAILY INSIGHT: More cowbell

By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor

At one of the first social events of the School CIO Tech Leadership Forum, someone made a comment about the reception needing “more cowbell”—an allusion to the April 8, 2000, Saturday Night Liveskit with Christopher Walken and Will Ferrell. Most of the people understood the allusion, but at least one or two didn’t and they got that weird look on their faces someone gets when everyone else thinks something is funny and they feel they should laugh but aren’t sure why. Less than an hour later, it came up again with the same general impact. About a month later, while I was at another party. I heard another reference to needing “more cowbell” by a person who was at least a generation younger than I am.

Over the course of several meetings with teachers this year, I have heard about social studies being cut, ignored by new state testing, or otherwise diminished by the CCSS and STEM focus throughout the accountability movement and in most Departments of Education throughout the nation. The October 17, 2012, issue of Education Weekhad an article focused on the same issue and even the lack of requirements for civics or social studies in many states. Only four states require four years of social studies; two states require none! History, geography, government (or civics, if you prefer), and economics (collectively social studies) are essential to building well-rounded students, yet we seem to have removed social studies from the core academic curriculum. Why? Are we really that sure that STEM and the Common Core will fully educate students? Have we begun to teach to the test to the point that nothing else matters? If we accept that premise, what will happen when Shakespeare or our Constitution isn’t on the test?

Routinely, newspapers and television news magazines showcase the lack of understanding of our basic democratic government concepts, geography and history. People can name more members of The Simpsonsthan U.S. Supreme Court justices. Many Americans can’t pass the basic citizenship test we give those wishing to become naturalized. I understand that not laughing at “more cowbell” won’t have a real negative impact but it is a symptom of the same disease that doesn’t allow people to identify the third amendment or name the vice president.

Unfortunately, we need to work within the confines of the Common Core, but we have a common history and culture than needs to be embraced and passed along to future generations, so the American experience can continue. What can we do in order to better leverage technology to help create an understanding of the American culture?

As we work to integrate technology more deeply within the instructional process, I think it is imperative that we go out of our way to select social studies examples and courses to work with to help ensure more exposure and focus on history and the social sciences. Local history is particularly vulnerable since field trip dollars are being cut and trips to local historic sites and similar venues are on the decline, while at the same time, by definition, local history is difficult to measure on standardized tests. For years we have heard people complain about the lack of fine arts within the schools. We even have campaigns and foundations to help sponsor art education. However, without a common cultural understanding, we will become a people whose only commonality is physical proximity.

Do you feel that history and the other social sciences are being displaced in favor of additional reading and STEM? Is that okay? If not, what can we do about it?

Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning.