A "Practice in Social Thinking" Curriculum
by Teachers College in the News - 1933
Teachers College in the News. From the Boston Christian Science Monitor.
From the Boston Christian Science Monitor
In many schools, the study of society is still pathetically weak. Teachers, striving to be safe, always safe, too frequently teach only the non-controversial patches of the social framework, thereby missing the points where genuine significances are developing. But when education becomes a tool to mold society, it must be applied to the genuine significances, and hence the new social studies curriculum in the Tulsa Public Schools is socially significant because of its frank objective.
The Tulsa curriculum seeks, in the words of Mr. Will French, associate superintendent of schools in Tulsa, now on leave of absence, and associate in Secondary Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, "to provide a reasonably valuable opportunity to practice social thinking." As a course of study, it represents an evaluation of all material taught in the social sciences and in the reading and history courses, and an arrangement of that material. It has been laid out to cover six years, the last three years of elementary school work and the junior high school years. The curriculum went into teaching use in February.
The meaning of "social thinking" is a little hard to define briefly. One characteristic, possibly a predominant one, in the professional discussions might also be called the "open mind." This implies that the indoctrination shall chiefly be in a type of thinking rather than in a type of information. The contrast is important.
The child, under the Tulsa plan, shall be taught to gather information, to discuss and exchange information, to focus the problem involved, and then to come to an actual judgmentalways with the mental reservation that more facts may alter the judgment, but that the judgment is necessary and may be acted upon because the facts will never all be in. Some may say that this is simply the much discussed "scientific method." Possibly. But it should be remembered that this method is not all of the Tulsa plan. There is an objective, and objectives may not be achieved without basic philosophy.
"What this philosophy is makes the greatest difference in the teaching of the social studies," Mr. French declares. "Yet, if we are to promote a unified program of social studies, some elements in the underlying philosophy must be held by all who teach the program successfully." The elements he calls the "six social slants."
The teachers as well as the students will come to absorb these six social slants. The six, with Mr. French's comments on each one, follow:
1. Social change is both inevitable and desirable.
"All students of history know that social change has been going on since the dawn of history. The present differs from the past only in that the rate of change has been accentuated. The future will differ from the present only in that the tempo may be still further increased. The adult generation can, therefore, no longer pass on to the younger generation ready-made solutions to social problems. Not only is this change inevitable, but it is desirable, since neither present nor past social welfare begins to approach the degree of perfection which the intelligence of man is capable of visioning or his ability capable of achieving. Children should, therefore, be taught to be 'expectant of change.'"
2. Social and economic planning is necessary.
"Since change is inevitable and desirable, maximum benefits from it can be achieved only when it is a guided and directed movement. The rotting fruits of a planless social and economic order are now everywhere more evident. Much higher planes of social living can be more quickly attained by a much larger percentage of all the people living under any social order if there is a serious effort on the part of intelligent citizens to guide, direct, and control progress. Among all the intelligent citizens of a country, there is no group who by intelligence, training, and spirit is better qualified as a whole to take a leading and influential part in such planning than the educational group. The personnel of the schools, colleges, and universities of this country should, therefore, be a positive and important influence in this planning. The schools should not only teach the desirability of planning but should be an agency for acquainting pupils with the plans proposed by representative groups."
3. Interdependence is a fact of modern social living.
"The disappearance of frontiers, the increasing density of population, the increasing intricacy and complexity of modern industrial and political life make interdependence a factor not to be ignored. Desirable plans of social welfare cannot soon be reached through a program of isolation and sectionalism. The inevitably interrelated character of modern life must be taught by social studies teachers as an unavoidable fact of the first magnitude in making plans for social progress."
4. Cooperative endeavor is a shorter path to high levels of social welfare than is competition.
"Competition and its inherent individualism have their place in life. In the past, especially in America, their place has been emphasized to a degree not justified in present-day living. The value of cooperative action, not only for children in school, but for adults in adult living, should be stressed as the most cogent means of social progress."
5. Tolerance must break down prejudices.
"Adequate solutions for social problems cannot be evolved from minds clouded with personal, national, racial, sectional, political, or religious prejudices. We may all have our preferences, and must expect others to have theirs, but if these become deep-rooted, unreasoned prejudices,
they will obstruct the stream of social progress. Only in a climate of tolerance do social ideas grow well or rapidly."
6. Human beings are more important than things.
"This thoroughly American principle of social organization is reflected in all the literature of the American Revolution and of the constitutional period. The justifiable ends of government were clearly conceived in terms of people's happiness, security, and prosperity. The prime purpose of American government is to protect people, not property. Prosperity requires the protection of property, and this is provided for as a means toward the promotion of social welfare, not as an end in itself. Yet there is a constant struggle in our legislative and judicial halls between human rights and property rights. In any society, it is inevitable that human rights must be paramount. Where there is conflict between the two, any government which is in reality a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, must constantly make decisions on the basis of the primacy of human rights."
How the pursuit of these "social slants" in a social studies curriculum will inject the realism of contemporary problems is evident. The issue of human rights vs. property rights cannot fail to produce a social attitude against child labor, for example. Nor, again quoting Mr. French, can it fail to question "the use of a society which puts more and more persons out of work each year."
Cognizant of the implications that must come from the application of these "social slants" to contemporary problems, the Tulsa educators are satisfied that they are on the right approach to sound and useful teaching of the social studies. "There is no use in teaching social studies, if it is a mere teaching of conditions without any or much reference to present or future," Mr. French says.
The securing of objectives does not provide the techniques for teaching them. That, again, is another problem, and the Tulsa educational staff has devoted much time to its solution.
Supposing, and it is a probable supposition, that the emphasis on interdependence and tolerance results in an antiwar attitude. How shall the qualities be taught? Where are the terms simple enough to make them easy for the child to grasp without destroying their relevancy to the larger problem as he comprehends it?
The tentative list of social study units illustrates the approach. Fourth-grade geography has been rather a rote of maps and cities in older educational systems. Here geography becomes purely a social study and in the 4B grades there is a study unit entitled, "Children of Many Lands." "Along with this unit," says Mr. French, "is a strong emphasis on the fact that the homes in which children live in different countries outwardly may be very different, but actually they are designed to serve the common needs of children throughout the world."
His comment contains the social attitude. A study of people of other lands, he points out, might turn into a saber-rattling brand of nationalism or a glorification of all that is Nordic Stress of differences might do this in the child's mind. But the topic suggests that homes have a common purpose and that children are alike everywhere.
Extracurricular activities in many school systems already bolster this concept. Children in one Tulsa school have exchanged huge clipping books with school children in other lands for some years. The device is common enough, but in this instance has become part of a plan.
The need of planning in society can be similarly taught. A junior high school study unit on the 7B level is titled "Growth of Cities." It begins as an intensive study of Tulsa as a typical city. In a single city it is easy to show the necessity for some forward-looking plan. From Tulsa the class proceeds to Middletown, and from Middletown the step to need of planning throughout society generally is next made.
The curriculum in the elementary grades four, five, and six is actually taught through the geography, history, and literature periods. A child must have certain reading given him so that he may develop his proficiency. It is practice reading. The typical reader for school use is a pleasant miscellany of short biography, some fiction, some poetry.
"We shall leave out the story about John's dog when we come to it in the reader," Mr. French continues. "We shall spend our time, instead, on the story about Eli Whitney's cotton gin, which we shall read during a unit of 'Life on a Southern Plantation.'" The result of this selective use of reading is that the curriculum is being installed with a minimum change in the books supplied children throughout the schools, a point pleasing to Mr. Taxpayer. Texts purchased in the future can be tested by their usability in the curriculum.
The Tulsa social studies program was constructed by a committee of a dozen or more teachers of the social sciences chosen from the Tulsa school system, working under the direction of Mr. French, with Dr. Jesse H. Newlon, director of Lincoln School, Teachers College, and a member of the Commission of Social Studies of the American Historical Association, acting as consultant. The work was begun during the spring term, and rounded out during the Summer Session at Colorado State Teachers College at Greeley.