Educating stability:

Social Studies is the canary in the coalmine

By Stephen B. Waters

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Educating Stability Table of Contents

Next chapter: Educating Stability: Individuals and Society

Frameworks: Key Understandings are of minimal significance

1: “Key Understandings” aren’t key.

The Frameworks mistakenly consider Key Understandings to be compelling. Their concept of Key or Enduring Understandings represents the logical fallacy of circular reasoning: Understandings are considered valid because they endure and because they endure, they are considered valid.

2: “Key Understandings” are cultural

Key understandings are cultural. The C3 Framework defines culture to be, “a human institution manifested in the learned behavior of people, including their specific belief systems, language(s), social relations, technologies, institutions, organizations, and systems for using and developing resources.”9 That makes key understandings cultural. Because they won’t necessarily travel across cultural boundaries, they are a tacit concession to moral relativism that works in both directions. Limited to their own cultures, they are unable to establish persuasive connections with other cultures or individuals. The inability to transfer solid foundations across cultural boundaries means they are susceptible to being undermined by outside ideas.

Ideals that boil up from homegrown cultural traditions offer no basis to be believed over those from neighboring cultures. In unseen contradiction, the frameworks presume uniform cultural experience while they promote diversity that presupposes a multicultural experience.

Key understandings are distilled to oversimplification that fails to convey core values worth mastering. Shallow schooling of “enduring understanding” clichés gives the appearance of education absent real content.

Framework authors assume a uniformity of cultural thought non-existent in the United States, at the same time they fail to notice the uniformity implicit in the underlying fabric society that, across cultures, binds all civilized people together. They interchangeably misuse culture and society without understanding there is a difference between them. The result is cross-cultural incompatibility underneath the notion of cross-cultural diversity it purports to support.

3: “Key Understandings” are only popular.

Popular understandings appear enduring only because they have been popular with teachers, teachers of current teachers and, before that, with their teachers, too, into the distant past.

Those traditions came to be called principles out of habit, not because they were distilled from experience, postulates, or proofs. Culturally–based “enduring understandings” offer students no path other than habit to deduce their foundation. Tradition is not enough. Because a culture believes something doesn’t make it worthwhile or worthy of respect.

Feelings that well up into consciousness may become popular and feelings that are popular are often wrongly presumed well reasoned.

4: Popular traditions are not principles

Absent the Common Core ELA Standards much of the remaining bulk of the frameworks is spent passing off popular traditions as principles.

The frameworks claim, “Meaningful social studies builds curriculum networks of knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes that are structured around enduring understandings, essential questions, important ideas, and goals.”10 When educators teach traditions simply because they are popular it is only coincidental to call them “enduring”, “essential”, or “important”.

Popularity only means they are well–known. Popularity offers neither validation nor justification. Modern packaging of bad ideas won’t make them any more significant.

History is littered with popular bad ideas. Separate but equal was popular. The slavery denounced in lessons today might have been considered an Enduring Understanding in the frameworks of 1859. Imagine teachers told to use then modern pedagogical techniques to drill slavery into yesteryear’s inquiring and eager young minds.

5: “Key Understandings” are not validated or revalidated.

For its own security, each generation is obliged to revalidate the principles accepted as fundamental by previous generations in light of more recent experience.

The frameworks offer no path other than habit for a student to deduce their value or revalidate for the current generation their importance. Revalidation is not even a consideration. Any worthwhile framework would teach the principle behind the enduring understanding. Students would revalidate the principle that validates the understanding.

The frameworks should ask, “Why are traditional understandings foundational?” That they don’t sends the message framework designers don’t themselves know.

Revalidation is the responsibility of every individual. It is too important a task to be assigned to elite experts.

6: Popular traditions leave students ungrounded.

Unexamined popular traditions imbedded into frameworks leave students substantially ungrounded. The frameworks examine popular notions they call “enduring understandings” and list what they feel are “key concepts”. They don’t offer students paths to determine from what foundation they spring or why they have value.

These platitudes aren’t principles. Beliefs aren’t principles. Clichés aren’t principles. What they call principles are convenient fictions used to avoid principles. The frameworks don’t explain why notions matter or justify them with reasoning others could follow and possibly accept as their own.

To earn cachet as principles, ideas with potential grow from wisdom distilled from hard experience. Patterns that appear significant are then projected into hypothetical futures. Some imagined futures would be silly — Utopian models that collapse, unworkable even in dreams. Others show potential. Those that stand up against both the past and future serve as acting principles that are useful until fresh experience teaches otherwise.

Students develop maturity as they examine why certain ideas are considered principles. As they become confident in their mastery, they can entertain challenges to them. Teachers likewise become pacticed enough to guide free ranging discussions in collaborative classrooms.

7: Frameworks miss the meat.

The social studies frameworks are self-defeating. Core social studies content disciplines include civics, economics, geography and history. In their sausage factory of subjects, when the meat gets squeezed out, the casing gets loaded with rubrics11 packed with filler called “enduring understandings”, “key concepts”, and themes. Although framework designers promise to “guide, not prescribe”12 they nevertheless suggest thin content that translates to:

8: Today’s issues framed in experience give traction.

Students find traction when history is treated as a core of today’s issues framed in experience.

Frameworks overflow with material, but selected by a process that makes them profoundly empty. When one doesn’t know what to teach or why, the culture becomes easy pickings for those this their own agenda.

This omission in the social studies frameworks shows that teachers, even good ones, may not be masters of what matters. A jumble of thought selected according to the fads of the day, grouped but not structured, all too easily appears significant.

9: Framework assumptions undermine.

The authors claim the aim of social studies “is the promotion of civic competence”13 they describe as “the knowledge, intellectual processes, and democratic dispositions required of students to be active and engaged participants in public life.”14

Unfortunately, rubrics at the national level and teased out at the state levels15 elbow aside concrete knowledge, encourage superficial intellectual processes, and overlook explaining foundations.

The frameworks undercut “the importance of educating students who are committed to the ideas and values of democracy”16 because they offer no rationale why one should commit to democracy. Either they believe students are born committed to democracy, or they do not know themselves how to encourage that commitment.

10: Frameworks uses tradition to mold.

The NCSS admits in a position paper their goal is to mold citizens. In support, they quote,

“As Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewey and other great educators understood, public schools do not serve a public so much as create a public.[ N. Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (Vintage Books, 1995), 18.] The goal of schooling, therefore, is not merely preparation for citizenship, but citizenship itself; to equip a citizenry with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for active and engaged civic life.”17

The goal of the framework seems contrived to produce good citizens rather than citizens who act responsibly. To do so, it drills in so much to know with so little worth knowing.

This would mean education belongs to the State and not to individuals. A “good citizen” becomes one schooled to be orderly, docile, and compliant, rather than one grounded in experience, clear–thinking, and well–spoken.

Honest education belongs to the individual student, not the government. Classes should show context across time about how virtues considered good citizenship have evolved would inoculate students to defend against indoctrination.

11: The weight of history.

The NCSS selected clichés from national experience that support a state-approved future, labeled them “enduring understandings”, and proposed to compel teachers to navigate their intricate framework, holding their job in the balance should they get it wrong.

In the overwhelming complexity of what they wrought they adopted premises about what to teach that are easily undermined. It’s not that Common Core has taken social studies — née history — south, but that, almost unnoticed, social studies has been south for some time now.

Social studies is not so complex as NCSS has made it seem. As shall be seen, non-experts can model practical alternatives focused onto what matters that are more understandable.

Frameworks: Inquiry Arc of vague questions

Fogging out over compelling questions

The frameworks don’t ask significant questions. They don’t nudge students to consider answers measured against experience extracted from history by those who turned their keen intellects toward addressing the simple daily problems of living.

Frameworks suggest as possible compelling questions, “Was the American Revolution revolutionary?”18 or “Was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s a success?”19 They offer possible supporting questions like, “What were the regulations imposed on the colonists under the Townshend Acts?” The frameworks revert to pedantry and petty detail.

The simpler, straightforward compelling question is “Why would people living in pre-revolutionary America wish to revolt?”

The frameworks fog people out when they try to sell, “a developmentally appropriate, scalable, and assessable set of ideas through which students can demonstrate their increasingly independent facility with recognizing, developing, and articulating powerful questions.”20 Frameworks overlook pivotal questions like:

Education should:

Frameworks: Themes don’t unify

Themes are a programmed distraction.

The C3 frameworks present ten mostly mundane themes.21 They represent mostly habits fallen into over time rather than coherent threads that encourage deeper understanding. New York State’s framework twiddles the order, but the themes remain reasonably constant. Only responsible to themselves, framework experts easily to ride off the rails of relevance.

The themes appear to make the frameworks more complicated than they need to be. The table below juxtaposes frameworks theme descriptions above more useful views.

For the themes below, the NYS number and rubric reference code follow the C3 framework theme:

1. Culture

[NYS: 1. Individual Development and Cultural Identity (ID)]

Framework presumption: “Through the study of culture and cultural diversity, learners understand how human beings create, learn, share, and adapt to culture, and appreciate the role of culture in shaping their lives and society, as well the lives and societies of others. In schools, this theme typically appears in units and courses dealing with geography, history, sociology, and anthropology, as well as multicultural topics across the curriculum.”

More useful view: By giving culture primacy in teaching, the NCSS accepts that a culture based on popular traditions or natural law, interacting with other cultures, is obliged to resign itself to persistent and intractable moral relativism absent an agreed-upon framework for peaceful problem resolution. The only fallback position for inter-cultural problem resolution is the Machiavellian concept that might makes right.22

2. Time, Continuity, and Change

[NYS: 3. Time, Continuity, and Change (TCC)]

Framework presumption: “Through the study of the past and its legacy, learners examine the institutions, values, and beliefs of people in the past, acquire skills in historical inquiry and interpretation, and gain an understanding of how important historical events and developments have shaped the modern world. This theme appears in courses in history, as well as in other social studies courses for which knowledge of the past is important.’

More useful view: Separating then and now, the NCSS presumes the present day to be an end point rather than another ordinary point along a continuum with others from the past, through the present, to the future. The view from that pedestal makes institutions, values and beliefs only clinical, distant, abstract considerations. In fact, one’s place in time is an essential tool to check whether what one thinks makes sense.

3. People, Places, and Environments

[NYS: 4. Geography, Humans, and the Environment (GEO)]

Framework presumption: “This theme helps learners to develop their spatial views and perspectives of the world, to understand where people, places, and resources are located and why they are there, and to explore the relationship between human beings and the environment. In schools, this theme typically appears in courses dealing with geography and area studies, but it is also important for the study of the geographical dimension of other social studies subjects.”

More useful view: Physical maps are tools that serve as metaphors for mental representations every individual uses to make decisions. To become more accurate they continuously must be updated. The critical metaphor for social studies is that “Sometimes you think you are correct, not because you are correct, but simply because you think you are correct.” That engenders humility and respect for others that is the cornerstone of society.

4. Individual Development and Identity

[NYS: 2. Development, Movement, and Interaction of Cultures (MOV)]

Framework presumption: “Personal identity is shaped by family, peers, culture, and institutional influences. Through this theme, students examine the factors that influence an individual’s personal identity, development, and actions. This theme typically appears in courses and units dealing with psychology, anthropology, and sociology.”

More useful view: Rather than external training of socialized behavior, the individual should be the primary theme, framing the issues of life from the personal perspective because

  1. it is the only framework within which one can operate and
  2. basic questions that give traction include: What can one know? How should one behave? How should one interact with others?

5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

[NYS: 5. Development and Transformation of Social Structures (SOC)

Framework presumption: “Institutions such as families and civic, educational, governmental, and religious organizations, exert a major influence on people’s lives. This theme allows students to understand how institutions are formed, maintained, and changed, and to examine their influence. In schools, this theme typically appears in units and courses dealing with sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, and history.”

More useful view: The classical Greek view was that the culture as a group defined individuals. Similarly, framework implementations encourage group activities to help students develop good citizenship. They misunderstand that when individuals recognize their limits, they have compelling reason to socialize. Education is incomplete if students fail to discover for themselves the personal value of society.

6. Power, Authority, and Governance

[NYS: 6. Power, Authority, and Governance (GOV)]

Framework presumption: “One essential component of education for citizenship is an understanding of the historical development and contemporary forms of power, authority, and governance. Through this theme, learners become familiar with the purposes and functions of government, the scope and limits of authority, and the differences between democratic and non-democratic political systems. In schools, this theme typically appears in units and courses dealing with government, history, civics, law, politics, and other social sciences.”

More useful view: The distinction between culture and society is not made in the frameworks, yet it is the single understanding required to overcome moral relativism between cultures. When one considers the minimum requirements for behavior at the edge where any two individuals or any two cultures meet, it defines the relationship required to legitimize governments, understand limits, and recognize abuse.

7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption

[NYS: 8. Creation, Expansion, and Interaction of Economic Systems (ECO)]

Framework presumption: “This theme provides for the study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, and prepares students for the study of domestic and global economic issues. In schools, this theme typically appears in units and courses dealing with economic concepts and issues, though it is also important for the study of the economic dimension of other social studies subjects.”

More useful view: One must be careful of the concept of economic “systems.” If individuals decide to do what they are good at and swap surpluses to mutual benefit, that is a fact, not a theory and not a “system.” Economic effects are in play, observed from experience, whatever a government might plan. The premise that structure must necessarily be governmentalized misapplies economic experience to suggest people consciously organize for trade. This framework theme might have been called economics except that the experience of Adam Smith and others seem shunted to the educational sidelines. Adam Ferguson explained these are the result of human action but not of human design. F. A. Hayek showed that actions often have unexpected consequences. Nor is consideration is given to whether regulators have the information necessary to make good regulations. It also presumes that effective redistribution necessarily must be governmentally driven.

8. Science, Technology, and Society

[NYS: 9. Science, Technology, and Innovation (TECH)]

Framework presumption: “By exploring the relationships among science, technology, and society, students develop an understanding of past and present advances in science and technology and their impact. This theme appears in a variety of social studies courses, including history, geography, economics, civics, and government.”

More useful view: Science and technology may speed interactions and multiply power, but they do not change the underlying society itself. They reaffirm the necessity to understand the mechanisms of society, the tendencies that affect it, and the need to encourage others to discover society for themselves. The theme curiously juxtaposes process, knowledge, and organization without explanation or justification.

Over time, cataclysmic change can be caused by a variety of vectors. That science has caused impact over time is obvious, hardly worthy of a major theme. Time is better spent understanding recursive feedback loops, relaxation cycles, and the compelling appreciation that knowledge of Mother Nature’s laws has put such power in the hands of anyone who cares to use it that we are in a race for civilization since previous protections are no longer adequate.

Technology appeals to the guild of educational authorities because it adds complexity that looks like magical sophistication to outsiders. Real education can create an inquiring mind with only the tools Abraham Lincoln needed, sitting before the fire with charcoal and a shovel to write on. That and a harvest of books. Books give insight. Books give perspective. Books give hope. Books give companionship. Books nudge toward a way out. Books give clues to what is wrong. Literature helps one become sensitive to patterns and the consequences of them. Literature compresses experience into concentrated points that help manufacture a way to bust out of our limitations. The frameworks give books short shrift.

9. Global Connections

[NYS: 10. Global Connections and Exchange (EXCH)]

Framework presumption: “The realities of global interdependence require an understanding of the increasingly important and diverse global connections among world societies. This theme prepares students to study issues arising from globalization. It typically appears in units or courses dealing with geography, culture, economics, history, political science, government, and technology.”

More useful view: Global connections are presented as different than those between individuals, even though behavior at the edge where any two individuals meet is scalable to groups, cities, states, nations, cultures, and civilizations.

10. Civic Ideals And Practices

[NYS: 7. Civic Ideals and Practices (CIV)]

Framework presumption: “An understanding of civic ideals and practices is critical to full participation in society and is an essential component of education for citizenship. This theme enables students to learn about the rights and responsibilities of citizens of a democracy, and to appreciate the importance of active citizenship. In schools, the theme typically appears in units or courses dealing with civics, history, political science, cultural anthropology, and fields such as global studies, law-related education, and the humanities.

More useful view: Releasing millions of political change agents who are unanchored to society by the lessons of history is not in the best interest of all our culture has accomplished in many hundreds of years of development. For instance, in the frameworks, one learns about the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy but, bizarrely, democracy, in the frameworks, is an unexamined and assumed given.

Frameworks: Key ideas and understandings are not compelling

Concepts may not be principles or virtues.

Imbedded in Key Ideas and Compelling Understandings, the frameworks bandy about concepts erroneously considered principles. Those the frameworks follow with still others considered virtues.

Traditions are not principles. What does make principles principles? Where do they come from? What distinguishes a true principle from a false bloom? How has the American culture arrived at these particular principles? How should principles resolve when in competition with other principles from home or different cultures?

Frameworks examples of principles include adherence to the social contract, consent of the governed, limited government, legitimate authority, federalism, separation of powers, equality, freedom, liberty, respect for individual rights, and deliberation.

Democracy isn’t mentioned as a principle, but it is treated as one. According to the C3 Framework, a Democratic principle is one “that should guide the behavior and values of institutions and citizens in a democracy.”23

The New York framework asserts the United States is founded on democratic principles it enumerates to be dignity for all, equality, fairness, and respect for authority and rules.

Virtues enumerated in the frameworks include honesty, mutual respect, cooperation, and attentiveness to multiple perspectives. How behavior becomes distilled and elevated to become a virtue is not discussed.

Similarly, Civic virtues are traits of character that enable citizens to contribute to the common good by engaging in political and civil society.

Concepts tread dangerous ground. Diversity is popularly encouraged to a degree that suggests groups have privileges beyond that extended to individuals.

The frameworks suggest experts know principles when they see them, even if you don’t, as if they are the authorities authorized to determine the common good.

Democracy isn’t a principle.

The NCSS social studies executive summary tenth theme, Civic Ideals and Practices, wants students to learn the “rights and responsibilities of citizens of a democracy.”24

The C3 framework proposes coursework should explain how a democracy relies on people’s responsible participation.

They propose to examine the requirements for living in a democracy but leave unexamined why one should want to do so. This is not new. Americans have come to promote democracy as if it were a good in itself that they wield almost like a club. The framework then digresses into a superficial travelogue about how government keeps people safe, that voting is an example of democracy, and examining what symbols of the country might be.

Democracy is treated as a principle when it is only a process. More dangerously, political habit has come to treat democracy as if it legitimizes policy. It does not. Approval by a majority only signifies that something is popular, not reasonable or justified.

Democracy doesn’t validate a proposition; it is a way to discuss it. Democracy codifies the humility that what people think just might be wrong. It codifies that even the smallest voice might suggest a better way to an audience tuned to hear it.

Principles matter.

The problem NCSS framework attempted to solve isn’t the problem that needs to be solved.

A major theme of education should be to teach students to detect the difference between a real principle and a false bloom. Anything less is schooling, not education.

As stated before, the frameworks consider principles to be “enduring understandings” and “key concepts” selected because they have been culturally popular. Because they blossom from cultural experience, they are the equivalent of natural laws. Natural laws don’t explain where principles and ideals come from or explain why they should be held.

“Key understandings” substitute for mastering concepts, tools, and methods worthwhile for any individual who needs to work with others.

The framework propagates not enduring understanding, but an enduring flatland. Restricted to culture, the entire framework fails to address the underlying society that holds different cultures together or explain how to deal across cultural boundaries.

Frameworks: Content Specifications misdirect

Implementations arrived in full bloom.

Vendors state level implementations arrived replete with copious expert behavioralist representations of the best pedagogical techniques.

Their complexity, probably by design, makes them a barrier to entry to competing representations of what to learn and how to learn.

Implementations are the point of the sword.

The frameworks meet implementations like binary chemical weapons. Two different non-toxic chemicals bind together in chemical weapons to create a dangerous reaction.

That is a way to say that the frameworks argument that content is up to local authorities is not sincere. Implementations are left up to individual districts that seldom have the time, curricular expertise, or funding to create the classroom material necessary to meet standards. Districts are left no practical alternative but to accept approved vendor implementations that express a pre-established voice.

Complete social studies framework implementations have yet to become widely available to the general public. However, vendor-provided misrepresentations of social studies content already infiltrate the sample content for English Language Arts Common Core grades 2-12 lessons. Vendors have followed the lead of federal Department of Education leaders and worked closely with those who created the frameworks.

The samples are sufficient to expose concerns.

ELA: Grade 2 samples misrepresent democracy.

The Grade 2 ELA read-aloud pushes a pasteurized “Democracy Good” Athenian notion that even in an early grade level representation undermines what is important about American principles. Half-truths presented as conventional wisdom promote acculturation that directs impressionable students toward the administration’s favored conclusions.25

The ELA sample content directs teachers to tell students that “people in ancient times often developed religions as they sought explanations for how things came to be or how things happened in nature . . .” as if gods were fanciful fairy tale creations instead of sturdy beliefs by which ancient youngsters lived and died. Today’s youngsters learn names of ancient gods, but not the lessons they offer. Today’s youngsters form beliefs that are different, but no less sturdy and no less mythic than ancient youngsters.

Non-fiction makes a contract with the reader to present a full and accurate representation of facts to flesh out a narrative arc. The Second Grade ELA text breaks that contract:

The authors’ misrepresentation of material facts massages partial truths into a preferred narrative. Peace becomes the absence of war rather than the absence of the need for war. Athenians become lovers of peace, arts, and learning and while the Spartan approach valued different less-positive lessons. Athenians invent democracy, considered by the authors to be laudable while Spartans are not praised for their concern about democracy’s potential for overreach. In business, intentional misrepresentation commits fraud; in education, it commits social change.

ELA: 6-12 Grade samples are non–evidence-based.

ELA reading materials for grades 6-12 purport to teach students about “Evidence-based claims.” The seven-year program drills students to scan readings for “evidence” of claims, even though such claims out of context are impossible to validate. Unable to be checked, they encourage students to cite things that are not true without any way of knowing it. They prepare young minds to put blind trust in oratory easily hijacked by demagoguery.

In one ELA reading, an American tennis player pleads for equal prize money for women. Never mind that her criticism was directed at a different country and that equal prize money had been awarded 32 years earlier to American women.26 Readings out of context imply an unfounded narrative arc suggesting something is wrong with America. Incomplete lessons perceived to be real are real in their consequences.

Lessons that purport to teach how to make a claim hide a second level subtext that inoculates students with a preferred interpretation of history.

Common Core ELA lessons adopt the erroneous premise of the motion picture The History Boys that assertions are as good as fact.

One misrepresentation might be happenstance, two a coincidence, but consistent superficiality spread through every year of middle and high school lessons represents either incompetence or calculated plot.

History matters.

If one were charitable, one could suggest the frameworks discount history as a practical tool perhaps because historiography — the history of the study of history — leads to the conclusion that since past interpretations have been colored by the present of the historian, any present use of history must be equally suspect.

Mythology teaches us to be cautious of the past but not discard it entirely. The EngageNY Grade 2 CoreKnowledge sample explains mythology by saying that people in ancient times often developed religions as they sought explanations for how things came to be or how things happened in nature.27

Missed entirely, and, as mentioned earlier, more significant to the ancients and to students today, is that myths were used to transmit life lessons to individuals. The myth of the killing of Medusa is much more than a magical tale.

There is more than one way to interpret Medusa, the gorgon, who represents the past — an underworld creature, with hair of writhing snakes — amorphous, constantly moving, changing shape, ready to strike at the inattentive, and equally deadly to those who fixed their attention directly at her.

Tale of Medusa offers useful, workable value. The Gorgon’s deadly head, according to mythologists like Jane Ellen Harrison, “was made out of terror, not the terror out of the Gorgon.” History is filled with writhing, senseless terror, waiting to be repeated.28 Perseus slew Medusa, with the help from the gods Athena and Hermes who provided a mirrored shield, winged sandals, a helmet of invisibility, and a sword.

Was Perseus born courageous, or did he discover along the way some source of courage? Some would treat courage as a vocabulary word. Others would tell you stories of courageous people for you to emulate. While they mean well, wisdom seldom works that way. The pattern worth learning from experience is that mastery begets understanding that begets courage. History helps one discover patterns of practical use either sharpening thinking or helping label practices tried before and found wanting.

Generations forget themselves and go stupid over time. Hubris grows. “Hey! I’m the center on my universe and must be right!” Literature calls people to refocus the magnifying glass of consciousness to remind humanity that the lessons of history are there for their benefit and, if forgotten, will attack them.

History and literature are not simply part of cultural heritage. They are how to plumb the past to discover its weakness and marshal its strengths. Seeing Medusa as history teaches how to use the tool to better one’s own future.

The frameworks don’t use history this way. They tie the past to the present for students to develop evidentiary skills and judgment according to present-day standards when its best use is to help recognize life lessons and their parallels in the timeline of life.

Frameworks: Social studies practices

Practices don’t make perfect.

The New York State Field Guide29 proposes half a dozen social studies practices it chooses to encourage.30 The first is “Gathering, Interpreting and Using Evidence.”

Evidence, while perhaps authentic, is slippery, susceptible to be taken out of context, and certainly overwhelming in quantity. Yet the frameworks want their charges to work well with primary sources. In so doing, by their disregard of authoritative historians, they deemphasize useful patterns that history can offer.

History, as in hamburger, can be cut many ways and still be considered meat. Slicing one way may not be as useful for students as slicing another way. Students deserve that which is most useful for them, not for the state. The issue again asks about the frameworks, does education belong to students or the state?

History requires vigilance. Well-meaning do-gooders and villains are revisionist at heart. Leftist social theorist Antonio Gramski said that the war to remake society would take a long march through cultural institutions. Schools are among those cultural institutions susceptible to low intensity warfare to shape the battlefield. Unarmed with the patterns history can offer, good people easily become gullible enablers of misgovernment that shows little, if any, respect for citizens.

Participation can be manipulated

Another social studies practice frameworks encourage is “Civic participation.”

Participation is not always worthwhile. It is said of editorials that “Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but you don’t have to know anything to have one.” A young or immature mind can easily be manipulated. It is dangerous for the frameworks to promote democracy as a principle without at the same time promoting caution because of the ease with which democracy can be hijacked.

As an example, the framework considers equality a principle.31 Equality would be something that one could support with a demonstration. But which equality: equality of opportunity or equality of result? Too often demonstrators want delivered what enforced equality has never delivered — not just ‘a’ thumb on the scale of justice, but want their thumb on the scale of justice because their thumb is the only true thumb.

Economic systems aren’t a practice

The frameworks considers “Economics and Economic Systems” to be a social studies practice. As mentioned earlier, if individuals decide to do what they are good at and swap surpluses to mutual benefit, that is a fact, not a theory and not a “system.” Economic effects are in play, observed from experience, whatever a government might plan. It also presumes that effective redistribution necessarily must be governmentally driven. Neither is the question considered whether economics should be evaluated from the benefit of government or, as Bastiat said, from the point of view of the consumer.

Frameworks: Reviewing conclusions

Integration of Common Core Standards is distracting.

Integration of Common Core Standards into social studies frameworks obscures how thin is practical social studies substance.

The mass of Common Core Standards — 1) Reading for Informational Text, 2) Writing, and 3) Listening and Speaking — clutters, confuses, and overwhelms critical analysis included in the social studies frameworks. The standards are important, but as adjuncts to social studies, not as central purpose.

The standards don’t validate the clarity and usefulness of social studies foundational understanding, dynamic process concepts, skills, and evidence that students need to arm themselves to face the world.

The frameworks are judgmental.

By posturing to be non-judgmental, frameworks’ judgment leaves students unpracticed at weighing substance. They leave real education until after schooling has been completed.

The frameworks confuse.

The frameworks speak to process, but confuse processes of learning with processes of governing, and still other processes of thinking.

The frameworks don’t investigate ideas; they simply repeat preferred ones often enough instill habit, whether they are sound or silly, constructive or destructive.

In so doing, they fall into the trap of post-modern relativism where, simply because that culture’s ideas are popular, they are comfortable within any culture, whether builder or destroyer, proponent of peaceful problem resolution, or user of individuals.

Complexity complicates matters.

The frameworks inherent complexity masks the lack of horsepower underneath the social studies framework hood. The cliché “college and career ready” sounds good. Like a spritz of new car smell, it appeals to shoppers, but covers up the something lacking underneath.

What it lacks is hard to pin down because multiple levels of social studies frameworks spread accountability wide, such that addressing concerns is like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole.

The frameworks are filled with material but fail to support what to teach or why. That educational vacuum sucked in notions that don’t belong there.

Cluttered but empty, the social studies frameworks leave unarmed to defend themselves against those who take advantage of selective recollection and use words to club the living into food.32

The frameworks exclude.

Frameworks authors don’t appear to understand how to use history. Worse, they don’t appear to believe in history. Worse than that, they want to impose their say in the study of history to make it transformative.

The experiences of historians, economists and such, expert in the practical application of the four core subjects, seem purposely filtered out. The authors seem prejudiced against them, preferring instead that students develop participatory contemporary experience. They prefer students not evaluate and value what others who have gone before have learned, digested, understood, and proposed for others to consider.

At state levels, frameworks hand off curricular substance to financially interested outside providers. Crony vendor alliances consume taxpayer dollars and are completely invested in the K-12 reforms. Their implementation packages review content, test content, and create assessments for achieving standards their packages ostensibly meet. Throughout it all, framework authors throw a veil over citizenship education that obscures content by suggesting that a vague goal is good enough.33

Pay attention! Those responsible for the process of education have decided to engage in social and economic transformation they were never authorized by voters and taxpayers to undertake.

Frameworks have been poorly vetted.

If the bouquets tossed to associations and educators in the documents are any indication, many people have examined the frameworks. Perhaps they fogged out before they could summon enough attention to reject it. Absent consent or objection, many well-meaning people lead students astray because they have consecrated the frameworks.

Authorities may not have paid attention to the material. Worse, perhaps they were convinced by it.

An important pattern of history is that one cannot leave important things to those who claim special expertise. A real expert is someone who does not set great store in credentials, but who is skilled enough to explain things so clearly even ordinary people can follow. Yet the frameworks have been left to those who claim expertise.

Who chose implementation content?

The Common Core State Standards initiative assures us “standards for K-5 reading in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are integrated into the K-5 Reading standards.”34 The pointer to those integrated K-5 history/social studies standards does not lead anywhere.

Like a magician, the standards misdirect attention away from that material provided offers social studies content following no particular standards, to no particular end, selected by no particular authorities, but effecting results quite disconnected from individual personal development.

So where did the content provided in examples come from? How was the content selected? It appears to reinforce in students certain habits that go beyond ELA standards. Where are the directions implementers followed? According to what criteria were those directions set? Who approved them? They point to committees and the trail stops there.

Frameworks serve particular interests.

New school revisionism comes from national educational associations and education schools following Global Competency prescriptions for education.35

The Competency-based Education that CCSSO pushing aligns with the recent federal workforce developmental emphasis that said that it too was using those reports as the basis for the classroom curriculum.36

The federal Department of Education has created the Learning Registry where teachers can obtain activities, projects, and assignments that encourage desired social changes in students. Linda Darling–Hammond encouraged the Performance Consortium’s focus on assessments to which schools should transition.

When one is schooled but not educated, the naïve have been hijacked because they are susceptible to it. Those who are naïve will join any chain gain when promised the prison will have a new name.

Who stands to benefit from the proposed social studies frameworks?

Not children: Kids are smart. They won’t be beguiled by behavioralist pedagogy. They quickly turn off when social studies frameworks offer little traction and no direct interest.

Not teachers: Stressed and stretched teachers object to operating in a tightly woven box of new and complicated standards that define student success very peculiarly.

Not colleges or businesses: College is only one step along several available paths, and forward-looking businesses recognize that schools are not CNC machines fashioning graduates according to a precise set of instructions, measured for compliance at each turn. Both colleges and businesses are confident in the vitality offered by a well-rounded individual.

Two groups have a vested interest in the frameworks as they have been proposed:

Economist and philosopher Adam Smith extracted a valuable pattern from history that warned us not to trust government, groups, or convenient associations of governments or groups. President Dwight Eisenhower agreed, concerned about collusion between elected officials, government bureaucracy, and outside organizations.

Common Core war is misdirected.

Those fighting for or against Common Core commit the logical fallacy of bifurcation in their presumption that only two options are available:

Common Core is the symptom not the problem. Poor teaching is intolerable with or without Common Core. Teachers who do not engage students positively need to be mentored to success or, if still not successful, removed from the classroom. Human Resource officers and administrators need to assure that teachers have excellent human and practical skills before the first time they set foot in a classroom. It is for good reason that Common Core ELA guidelines assure students do not leave the 3rd grade without writing, reading, and inquiry competency.

Beyond that, the parties on each side of battle for and against Common Core seem to overlook that the real battle is over content that dictates whether education belongs to the state or to the individual.

It unequivocally belongs to the individual. The test for teachers, school districts, state education authorities, and academia will be whether they choose to recognize their obligation to individual education or only increase the volume of their current chant in favor of top-down uniform schooling, hoping to drown out obvious insights that expose fatal flaws.

Of course students perform poorly today, They resist orchestrated complexity designed to school them into faceless features of an American flatland. They resist because intuitively they know what the frameworks ignore — that education belongs to the individual, not to the state.

The Social Studies name gets in the way.

Social studies examines history, economics, politics and culture to learn how people have interacted with each other through the years, to consider how the past can be applied to improve current and future interactions.

The National Council for the Social Studies has turned the subject into the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence. Their frameworks promote nationalism in the form of docility and order and call it enabling.

The crux of the problem is that the definition of civic competence has changed over time and the definition promoted by academics through centralized government and purported state understanding and support is not necessarily what parents would want for their children.

By design, civics has supplanted history, economics, politics and even core lessons about social interaction. This is the desired outcome of decades of repeated attempts to commandeer education along the lines promulgated by national and international organizations with financial and policy interests in removing education from local hands and transforming it to serve their particular interests.37 Plans for mental disarmament have reached the point we might better return to teaching subjects rather than support the centrally approved version of civics.

What is properly taught should be presented in a manner that allows each student develop conclusions and defend against even the teacher.

Knowledge, patterns, and process.

Without a solid basis of facts there are no patterns to help us. Without patterns one cannot use analytical skills to deduce processes that lead to mastery of what matters. That mastery leads one to value society.

An arsenal of learned experience called facts in the storehouse of one’s mind is powerful fuel when one has the skill to reason to an independent position that separates one from the herd. Ironically, that very independence makes one an asset to the rest of the herd.

If there is a lesson that students need to learn that has been stripped from the framework, it is that knowledge leads to dynamic analytical thought processes that lead to wisdom worth knowing. Such wisdom empowers individuals with the strength to create society, value it, and defend it from those who would destroy it from within through poor ideas or from without through force.

We are all animals trying to elevate our humanity. Once one figures why society matters, one can advocate for it. Once one learns why society matters, one becomes armed to defend it.

Excellence redefined

Participation public affairs is down, journalism is failing, and the fog is rolling in. One would think that certainly to be a call to action. Except that what has been proposed, continues the long march through the culture. The long march promises rainbows and unicorns. It promises to motivate the public, encouraging “civic participation.”

Don’t bet on the rainbows and unicorns. The long march delivers what it wants, not what you thought you would get. They promise excellence. To them it means something different.

Many words in the academic lexicon have been re-designed to mislead. One would think excellence would be self-evident. Yet to social education theorists, excellence has become “the formation of abilities, dispositions, habits, and traits of character in each student to create a desired mindset that governs how the individual student sees life, the world, and an obligation to other people.”38

Parse that definition and their version of excellence seeks to undermine individual autonomy to become a means not of liberty, but of control.

Of course such “progress” is voluntary. For the greater good, students will be required to collaborate, apply knowledge and skills, integrate content, and use technologies. For the greater good, students need never learn and never analyze. When schooled but not educated, the naïve become susceptible to hijack. Someone naïve will join any chain gain when promised his prison will have a new name.

When education belongs to the student, nothing matters more than refining perception of reality, learning facts, distinguishing falsehood and discarding it. These capacities belong to each individual. They are not for modern education to take possession of to mold and exploit.

Government that would control education to convince people — to make them “good citizens” — is not of the people, by the people, or for the people.

Political theory

It appears the frameworks and implementations contain no political theory, but they do.

Underneath the “consciousness” of the inquiry, themes, understandings, content specifications, rubrics, charts, and examples of what is proposed, there is no history, no economic laws, and no appreciation for those who have gone before to focus their great intellects on detecting patterns to address the simple daily problems of living.

Frameworks designers don’t ever have to admit to the real purpose. We just have to recognize it, label it, defend against it, and warn others of the pattern so they, too, if they choose, can inoculate themselves in protection.

Ayn Rand called such educationists comprachicos — child-buyers: a mythical allusion to those who, for their own ends, would manipulate the minds of children. Educationists embraced John Dewey’s model of learning, his “learn by doing” approach that promoted real world experiences, not just reading and drill. They distilled out the process of analytical thinking, in favor of more dogmatic critical thinking. Education became very ‘now,’ encumbered by a restrictive set of blinders.

What worked in classical education became passé because it ostensibly favored those of higher socioeconomic class. They promoted group work and cooperative learning rather than nudge students to think for themselves. They educated for social responsibility and democracy even if strong individual thinking is how one can deduce what society is, what responsibility one has to society, and what processes in democracy are valuable.

They ostensibly left content to districts, but most vendors with products for social studies have been working on content that mirrors the preferred version of Swiss cheese with large holes. Non-fiction ELA lessons convey their own Swiss cheese — not false, but misleading and other directed.

It has been a slow process, this long march through culture. When parents attended school in the 1970s and 1980s, they would have been taught by the boomer generation teachers, flower power kids who escaped the Vietnam War by becoming teachers—confident of themselves while cynical of others.

If, when they were in school, today’s teachers didn’t learn enough to see the pattern of what was coming, their social studies classes failed. If students today don’t learn enough to see the patterns of what was coming, then social studies still fail.

If social studies has been unsuccessful, then another frameworks fix by those whose expertise created the problem makes it even less likely the frameworks can defeat the ongoing long march through the culture.

Social studies frameworks are too heavy to survive.

One need not despair. Despite federal bribery to facilitate fundamental transformation, the burdensome nature of frameworks version 0.9 so weighs down teachers and students in the classroom that they will seek a simpler, more elegant model. There is still the opportunity to reclaim from Common Core what matters to save it from its encumbrances.

Social studies will more easily be taught once educators themselves master the dynamic process concepts that lead to virtuous behavior. Until then, don’t expect success from the cumbersome technique of teaching static fixed virtues.

Moving on

The goal of education is to spread knowledge and understanding, not evade it or make it the province of a particular domain. The further goal of education is also to break out of the guild of credentialed authorities that generates complexity insiders and outsiders alike mistak for magical sophistication.

The frameworks are “a bridge too far” except that students taught in a social studies frameworks class are unlikely to appreciate the analogy. Students would protest their ignorance if only they knew why they should.

Still, although overgrown, there is room in the classroom for subjects. Present day pre-Common Core History and English are particularly encumbered with barnacles for not really recognizing how they can tie the present to the past and back again.

As for education, there is hope. The next section presents ways of looking at things that help one recognize barnacles to discard. Once you discover that you matter, you are in a position to assure you are up to the task.

Educating Stability Table of Contents

Next chapter: Educating Stability: Individuals and Society

Endnotes -- Frameworks

9 C3-framework-for-social-studies.pdf
11 Rubrics are tables that define what the authors feel matters.
12 Ibid. C3 Framework. Page 6
13 http://
14 Ibid. execsummary.
15 “New York State K-8 Social Studies Framework” and [National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013).
18 Page 18.
19 Ibid. Pg. 18.
20 Ibid. Pg. 17.
21 Ibid. execsummary.
22 IJS. Pg 218. “Post-colonial literature crept into the limelight in the 1980s and 1990s. Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel The English Patient, was a non-linear narrative in which many cultures are represented, but no society. Things are not as they seem. Expediency is the lens for decision-making. Contact breeds community and events outside one’s control change lives. Simplistic interpretations badly skew judgment which leads to unsubstantiated presumptions about western and eastern incompatibility that fall in line with Samuel Huntington’s lecture of the same year called Clash of Civilizations.”
23 Ibid. C3-Framework. Page 99.
24 http://
27 Page 16.
28 Look closely, if you dare, at the complexity of the American Civil War, with both sides fighting well-reasoned positions founded in the Bible, the Constitution, and history, systematically killing off 600,000 civilian and military sons and daughters, each side convinced of their moral right.
29 New York State K–12 Social Studies Field Guide
30 The frameworks consider Chronological Reasoning and Causation, Comparison and Contextualization, Geographic Reasoning to be social studies practices as well, but examples fail to tease out their variety so they seem used more for show than anything else.
31 Ibid. (NYS?) Framework. Pg. 33
32 William Gass. Gertrude Stein and the Geography of the Sentence.
33 Page 82: “Advocates of citizenship education cross the political spectrum, but they are bound by a common belief that our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know the past; read, write, and think deeply; and act in ways that promote the common good. There will always be differing perspectives on these objectives. The goal of knowledgeable, thinking, and active citizens, however, is universal.”
35 See the Global Competency document created by the CCSSO with the Asia Society and later to examples from the P21 document. Reference Robin S. Eubanks book, chapter 7.
36 Eubanks communication.
37 Ibid. Eubanks. Pp. 131-176.
38 Ibid. Eubanks. Pg. 265. Describing the definition of excellence according to Dr. John Goodlad’s The Changing American School in the National Society for the Study of Education 1966 Yearbook.