Letter: Here’s why social studies is important

Letter to the Editor

The following is a letter from retired UH Manoa education professor Gail A. Tamaribuchi.

What is the purpose of education? There is no argument that the goal of education has been and continues to be to prepare students for the changing world. Through the years, the school curriculum has changed by societal changes and needs. However, the goal of education from the early colonial beginnings to the present day continues to support preparing students to meet the challenges of today and the future.

If there is a belief that education prepares one to face the challenges of the future, it is also commonly believed that specific subjects prepare students for professional futures. There is no question a strong foundation in mathematics may lead to a career in engineering or that a science background may lead to a career in science or medicine. What is social studies? It is the integration of the social sciences, history, and humanities to promote civic education. What is the impact of a strong social studies background? The social studies include anthropology (the study of culture), economics (allocation of resources), geography (space and location), sociology (group behavior), political science (power), and psychology (individual behavior).

What is the impact of social studies instruction? According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the primary purpose of social studies is to help young people make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse world, democratic society in an interdependent world.

What is more important for the future of our democracy and the credibility and sustainability of our society and nation than to prepare students ...

What is more important for the future of our democracy and the credibility and sustainability of our society and nation than to prepare students with the knowledge, attitudes, values and skills to deal reflectively with the major social issues and problems in our nation and the world? Yet, social studies has not been given due credit because of the difficulty in establishing a direct cause and effect link between an expansive social studies curriculum designed to develop citizens who have the commitment and skills to practice democracy and face societal realities and a specific profession. 

A strong social studies curriculum is especially important in a democratic society like ours, where government is run by the people. In order for citizens to make intelligent decisions that affect their government and community, they must know how their government works, their individual rights and responsibilities, and possess a basic understanding of their nation and world. Social studies provide this information and teach critical thinking skills that help students obtain and process that information. Through the knowledge, skills and abilities they acquire in the social studies courses, students understand what it means to live in a complex and pluralistic society as well as the means and processes of representative form of government. 

Careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) cannot operate in a vacuum. It is the purpose of social studies to teach students to think about the morals and ethics that accompany decisions about the use and application of technology. 

“Modern life as we know it would be impossible without technology and the science that supports it,” as a teacher recently testified to the Board of Education on June 21, regarding the proposed changes to the graduation requirements. “Math and science gave us the atomic bomb, but the ethics and morals of using it is what students get in social studies.”

A comprehensive social studies curriculum is a win/win for all. So why is the Board of Education proposing Policy 4540 to eliminate the fourth credit social studies electives? These electives with their broad coverage and focus on critical analysis and reasoning give students a broader world view, which in turn better equips them to make decisions about their future.

Hawaii’s students need four years of high school social studies in order to gain the skills necessary to compete in today’s global society. The current social studies curriculum, which includes classes in history, civics, economics, geography, and global studies, prepares students to successfully face the future. It also gives them the chance to delve deeper into subjects that interest them, and allows them to expand, broaden, and apply the knowledge they gained in their basic history classes, so they can analyze, understand and evaluate real-world problems.

If schools no longer offer students this opportunity, the educational system has failed them. We cannot allow the changes to Policy 4540 to pass. We are in danger of losing a generation of citizens schooled in the foundations of democracy. Hawaii citizens must not let the Board of Education deny students the opportunity to broaden their understanding of the complex state, national, and world issues and challenges and teach them the tools to make informed decisions as knowledgeable consumers, prudent savers and investors and effective participants in a global economy.

With the current situation of state, national and world affairs, it is not the time to reduce curricular choices. What is more important than the preparation of informed citizens who will take an active role in our political process and make rational decisions for the common good affecting all citizens?

Support retaining the fourth social studies credit by signing a petition addressed to the Board of Education here.

Also visit the AlohaPosse (Preserving Our Social Studies Education) at www.alohaposse.org and Facebook AlohaPosse.

Gail A. Tamaribuchi
Retired Associate Professor
University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Education
Social Studies Education, Secondary Program
Director of the Center for Economic Education