Curriculum Analysis — Social Studies Department

Harvard News 11/14/83–Editorial – CURRICULUM ANALYSIS: PART 3

By E. Randol Schoenberg, Editor-in-Chief and Bart Aronson, Features Editor

The flexibility of any effective social studies curriculum is governed by certain subjects which must, of educational and social necessity, be taught. Basic social studies skills, the history of the western world from the fertile banks of the Euphrates to our current modern world, and United States history—all are necessary. Harvard’s social studies department has, over the years, developed a comprehensive arrangement of those necessities, and at the same time, has provided considerable opportunities for taking electives. However, this does not mean that the program is not deserving of scrutiny; a different organization might be equally comprehensive (if not more so) and, at the same time, take fuller advantage of the department’s excellent elective program.

The Social Studies department proposes to introduce Lower schoolers to “the content and methodology of the social sciences.” The seventh grade course provides a broad base for future study in European and American history with useful library skills, and then geography, economics, and anthropology. However, the course includes a five-week unit on archaeology as well. Given that archaeology does not cover a specific time span, investigate historical trends, discuss causal relationships in history, or find significant application beyond the seventh grade course, it may not be a necessary social studies skill. Perhaps another unit, which could simultaneously provide a case study for necessary skills, introduce new skills, and provide information that can later be used, would be more appropriate.

The eighth grade course could be used to provide the necessary case study for the seventh grade. The seventh grade course could culminate in a case study of the United States government, with emphasis on those things—such as early American society, politics, and our governmental system—that would involve both an application of the skills learned, and valuable civic and historical knowledge. Such a case study is, even within current time constraints, feasible. First, the archaeology unit and the “big dig” would be eliminated from the seventh grade. There should be not less enthusiasm as a result: the American system is fascinating and intriguing, both because it is inherently so, and because it is ours. Second, the eighth grade course contains a lengthy unit on library skills, which is repetitive. Third and finally, the course contains an inordinate emphasis—nearly the entire spring quarter—on criminal law. The most important elements of this unit could be incorporated into the case study itself. This would complete the seventh grade year, and prepare a student for Western Civilization I in eighth grade.

The current Western Civilization I course, with a few modifications, could be easily adapted to eighth grade use. The course—particularly the early units of the course—provides an excellent vehicle for the application of the geography, economics, and anthropology learned in seventh grade. The application of those tools, so soon after they have been learned, would certainly enhance the learning of the historical material itself. Furthermore, once the student understands that he is not studying cases out of context, but actual, chronological history, his enthusiasm would increase. As a consequence, the Western Civilization I material should not be too difficult for eighth graders.

Currently, Sophomores have a choice between Western Civilization II and A.P. European history. However, if Western Civilization I were moved back, Western Civilization II would also be moved back. There is no history course with the breadth, depth, importance, and, finally, the complexity of European history; yet, A.P. students are expected to master the material in one year, the sophomore year. The scope is extraordinary; many sophomores who have taken the course do not feel comfortable with their grasp of that scope. If all students took the Western Civilizations I and II courses in sequence, then those who wanted a fuller understanding of European history would be intellectual. Tenth grade, then, would offer United States history, both regular and A.P. Though it is clear that United States history is offered nationally in the eleventh grade, it is not clear why. Most students find United States history should be taken in the tenth grade, before the more difficult A.P. European history course.

Under the proposed changes, the social studies sequence would end in tenth grade. A student would then have one more year required, which he could satisfy with an elective. The social studies department, with its outstanding faculty, offers an astounding wealth of experience and electives, all valid, and all valuable. A.P. European history is a popular course, and certainly students will continue to take it. The course would certainly not be repetitive: it would have a different focus than Western Civilization II, and would complete, and be complementary to, that course. Two years of European history would provide enough time for a real grasp of the subject. Finally, there has been some suggestion that the department’s electives are too fragmented. In order to guarantee the rigor required in a junior course, perhaps the department could require juniors take only full-year electives. Given this and the other proposed changes, an already outstanding Social Studies department could, perhaps, be improved.

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