ERIC Identifier: ED322021
Publication Date: 1990-04-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science
Education Bloomington IN.
Social Studies Curriculum Reform Reports. ERIC Digest.
The 1980s were years of concern about the curricula in elementary and
secondary schools. Throughout this decade educators in the social studies,
as well as in other fields of knowledge, formed curriculum study groups
to assess the status quo and recommend improvements in widely distributed
reports. This ERIC Digest examines (1) four social studies curriculum reform
reports of 1989, (2) the treatment of geography and history in these reports,
(3) challenges to the expanding environments curriculum, and (4) implementation
of recommendations for curriculum reform.
CURRICULUM REFORM REPORTS OF 1989.
Four curriculum reform reports of 1989, like most of their predecessors
during the 1980s, strongly urge the establishment of core requirements
in social studies, knowledge and skills all students are expected to learn.
The reports are listed below:
* The report of the Curriculum Task Force of the National Commission
on Social Studies in the Schools, "Charting a Course: Social Studies for
the 21st Centtury."
* The Bradley Commission's "Historical Literacy: The Case for History
in American Education," an in-depth sequel to the brief report of 1988,
"Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools."
* The Education for Democracy Project's "Democracy's Half-Told Story:
What American History Textbooks Should Add,"
the companion to "Democracy's Untold Story: What World History Textbooks
* The National Governors' Association report, "America in Transition:
The International Frontier," a call for emphasis on international studies
in the curricula of elementary and secondary schools.
The curriculum reform reports of 1989 reflect major trends and issues
in the social studies literature of the 1980s. For example, these reports,
in line with their predecessors in the 1980s, tend to emphasize history
and geography as central subjects in the core curriculum of the elementary
and secondary school (History-Social Science Curriculum Framework and Criteria
Committee 1988). They also tend to stress an international perspective
in the teaching of geography, history, and current events (Task Force on
International Education 1989). Further, these 1989 reports emphasize consistent,
cumulative, and detailed studies of key topics and themes from kindergarten
through grade twelve. And the reports of the Bradley Commission and the
National Commission on Social Studies follow the 1988 "California Framework"
in strong calls for either substantial modification or replacement of the
traditional expanding environments curriculum scheme of the elementary
HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY AT THE CENTER OF THE CURRICULUM.
The 1989 reports continue a decade-long trend in decrying the general
ignorance of American students in geography and history, the shoddy treatments
of these subjects in standard textbooks, and the superficial or insufficient
coverage of these key subjects in curricula and classrooms (Grosvenor 1989;
Jackson 1989; Ravitch 1989). Writing for the Bradley Commission, Kenneth
Jackson reports, "History is typically a forgotten subject in the elementary
schools, where an 'expanding environments' approach assumes that preadolescents
cannot understand historical concepts." He reveals that 15 percent of the
nation's high school students do not take a course in United States history,
and about half of them do not study any European or world history courses
In response to undesirable curriculum conditions and learning outcomes,
the Bradley Commission and the Education for Democracy Project stress the
primacy of history and recommend the blending of geographic content with
the study of United States and world history. The Education for Democracy
Project, for example, calls for required high school courses in the history
of the United States, in Western civilization, and in one non-Western civilization.
Courses in world geography and United States government also are proposed
as part of the secondary school core curriculum (Gagnon 1989, 170). The
Bradley Commission calls for four years of history during the six-year
sequence in social studies from Grades 7-12 (1988, 7).
The Curriculum Task Force of the National Commission on Social Studies
in the Schools concurs that history and geography "should provide the matrix
or framework for social studies" (1989, 3). However, the Commission also
stresses that concepts from various social sciences--economics, sociology,
and political science, for example--should be integrated with history and
geography throughout the curriculum. The proposed high school core curriculum
is a three-year sequence in world history that incorporates the study of
American history. These historical studies would be interrelated with ideas
and perspectives from geography. The fourth and final year of high school
would involve a course in U.S. government and civics and an elective course
in one other social science.
Some social studies educators oppose the calls to stress history and
geography. Educators in economics, for example, argue for the fundamental
value of their discipline and the need to overcome widespread ignorance
of concepts and facts in economics (Walstad and Soper 1988). Advocates
of current events and social issues as the essential elements of social
studies education also disagree with the proposals for a history-dominated
curriculum (Evans 1989).
CRITICAL CHALLENGE TO THE EXPANDING ENVIRONMENTS SCHEME.
The elementary school social studies curriculum seems most ripe for
changes in line with the 1980s curriculum reform movement. The California
Department of Education became a leader in this area of curriculum reform
with publication in 1988 of a history/geography-centered curriculum framework
as an alternative to the traditional elementary social studies curriculum.
This California curriculum is included in the Bradley Commission report
as one of three alternative curriculum patterns it recommends to elementary
school educators. Charlotte Crabtree, a member of the Bradley Commission
and an author of the 1988 California curriculum design, points out that
there is no foundation in research on child development and learning for
the tenets of the expanding environments framework (1989, 175-183).
The National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools also rejects
the traditional expanding environments scheme in favor of more profound
and complex studies of peoples and places around the world in the past
and present. Students would be introduced to a rich variety of literature,
history, geography, and the arts from various cultures and historical periods
from the primary through the intermediate grades. This represents a clear
departure from past practices of deferring serious study of events in history
or of faraway places until the higher grades.
IMPLEMENTATION OF RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CURRICULUM REFORM.
During the 1980s, there was a general increase in the number of social
studies courses required for graduation. From 1980 to the beginning of
1989, high school graduation requirements in social studies were increased
in thirty-two of the fifty states. In twenty-five states, the requirement
for graduation is three years; it is three and one-half years in two states;
and it is four years in three states. Twenty states, however, still do
not require even three years of social studies in the high school core
curriculum (Clune 1989, 49-61). The number of students taking history within
the social studies curriculum also increased during the 1980s. Between
1982 and 1987, the proportion of students completing at least one course
in U.S. history increased from 76 to 87 percent. The number of students
taking a world history course increased from 33 to 44 percent (O'Neill
The advances in the quantity of social studies courses required for
graduation from high school offer hope to advocates of more substantial
changes. These quantitative changes, however, fall far short of the reforms
insisted upon by the leading curriculum reform reports. Further, they reveal
nothing about the quality of the curriculum. Nonetheless, they may lend
credibility to the optimistic view of Kenneth Jackson, chair of the Bradley
Commission on History in Schools, who predicts that "the political and
psychological climate in the final decade of the twentieth century may
be more receptive to curricular reform than at any time in the past eight
decades" (1989, 9).
Will this positive climate for curriculum reform materialize as Jackson
predicts? If so, will it produce the kind of changes that he and other
leaders of the 1980s have recommended? These questions will engage social
studies educators as we move from the lofty ideals of curriculum reform
proposals of the 1980s to the hard realities of practical curriculum change
in the 1990s.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are in the ERIC system
and are available in microfiche and paper copies from the ERIC Document
Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices, contact EDRS,
3900 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia 22304; telephone numbers are
703-823-0500 and 800-227-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number are annotated
monthly in CIJE (CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION), which is available
in most libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS; however,
they can be located in the journal section of most libraries by using the
bibliographic information provided below.
Bradley Commission on History in Schools. "Building a History Curriculum:
Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools." Washington, DC: Educational
Excellence Network, 1988. ED 310 008.
Crabtree, Charlotte. "Returning History to the Elementary School." In
Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education, edited
by Paul Gagnon and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools. New York:
Clune, William H. "The Implementation and Effects of High School Graduation
Requirements: First Steps toward Curriculum Reform." New Brunswick, NJ:
Center for Policy Research in Education of Rutgers University, 1989. ED
Curriculum Task Force of the National Commission on Social Studies in
the Schools. "Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century."
Washington, DC: National Commission on Social Studies in the Schools, 1989.
ED number to be assigned (SO 020 553).
Evans, Ronald W. "Diane Ravitch and the Revival of History: A Critique."
The Social Studies 80 (May-June 1989): 85-88. EJ number to be assigned.
Gagnon, Paul. "Democracy's Half-Told Story: What American History Textbooks
Should Add." Washington, DC: Education for Democracy Project of the American
Federation of Teachers, 1989. ED 313 305.
Gagnon, Paul. "Democracy's Untold Story: What World History Textbooks
Neglect." Washington, DC: Education for Democracy Project of the American
Federation of Teachers, 1987. ED 313 268.
Grosvenor, Gilbert M. "The Case for Geography Education." Educational
Leadership 47 (November 1989): 29-32. EJ number to be assigned.
History-Social Science Curriculum Framework and Criteria Committee.
"History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools." Sacramento:
California State Department of Education, 1988. ED 293 779.
Jackson, Kenneth. "Why the Time is Right to Reform the History Curriculum."
In Historical Literacy: The Case for History in American Education, edited
by Paul Gagnon and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools. New York:
O'Neill, John. "Social Studies: Charting a Course for a Field Adrift."
ASCD Curriculum Update 31 (November 1989): 1-4.
Ravitch, Diane. "The Plight of History in American Schools." In Historical
Literacy: The Case for History in American Ecucation, edited by Paul Gagnon
and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools. New York: Macmillan,
Task Force on International Education. "America in Transition: The International
Frontier." Washington, DC: National Governors' Association, 1989. ED number
to be assigned (SO 020 208).
Walsted, William B., and John Soper. "A Report Card on the Economic
Literacy of U.S. High School Students." New York: Joint Council on Economic
Education, 1988. ED 310 005.