Ever since I have started writing for this site and others like it, I have waxed poetic about the state of education when it comes to my subject. History, geography, civics, and all other forms of social studies get the short end of the stick in most schools nationwide. Those classes are often first on the chopping block when it’s time to find more minutes for math and literacy. In many schools, socialmstudies jobs have become the designated role for coaches who are forced to teach. And chances are if you work at a school that does not have a defined pay scale, social studies teachers are paid less than their state-tested subject peers.
All of that is bad. Nobody disputes that, even the people who allow it. However, as a social studies teacher by trade, I can tell you that I am starting to reminisce about the days when nobody cared what I did.
Even when I wanted social studies to have a higher position in the school, I dreaded the fact that would mean more oversight. I always liked the anonymity that came with teaching a class that was not tested and therefore was not a priority of the school. I complained about my teacher coaches not having social studies experience but enjoyed the fact that they often deferred to me for my own development. You don’t get that kind of laid-back experience when you teach math or reading as I found out the hard way.
But as I have started to return to social studies, I am realizing it is no longer the safe-haven that I left. The world has gotten a lot more political over the last couple of years and one of the battlefields has been the classroom. Whether it is arguing about 1776 vs 1619 or the skin color of Cleopatra, everybody has an opinion about what and how you should teach. It’s not like this kind of thing has never come up. There was always the occasional parent that would complain that I compared Kanye West to Langston Hughes. The mother that didn’t like when I told her son that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all based around the same God. The father who was upset when I didn’t play along with the new-world-order illuminati conspiracy theories he had been telling his daughter.
Now topics that were previously solid ground have become controversial. Talking about the election or watching the inauguration seems pretty basic for a civics unit, and once upon a time it was. However, now it is something that I will likely field at least one or two angry phone calls about.
On the school level, everyone and their mama has some exciting new curriculum they want me to try out. Some article they want me to teach. Some figure they think I should discuss. Some project they saw on Pinterest or Facebook they want me to emulate. And if an important world event happens just throw your long term plan out the window because that is what you should be talking about as far as everyone else is concerned.
It is probably a good thing that people care more in a vacuum. Certainly, a good thing that schools care more. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the good ole days of walking into a classroom where I could talk about what I wanted when I wanted and not worry about pushback from the outside.