Why teach history and the social studies? Better yet, why study history and the social studies? Most of the hundreds of texts and curricula produced each year answer these questions only implicitly. Before presenting my outline and lesson plans, I will explicitly discuss the assumptions which underlie them.
A brief review of the last two decades of social studies curricula is in order. The story begins in the late 1950’s when American educators in all disciplines became seized with panic. Russia’s Sputnik convinced the American public that American education had become soft and flabby. The natural sciences were singled out for special criticism and the proposed solution was to have professional scientists cooperate with the best secondary school teachers to produce vigorous, demanding curricula. Thus were born PSSC, BSSC, and other scientific curricula. The social studies soon followed; social studies/history reform focused on teaching students “the structure of the discipline.” Instead of merely memorizing concepts, students were to be trained to think like historians, economists, and sociologists. Objectives of this reform effort were purely cognitive.
This reform was short-lived as students in the late 1960’s began demanding more relevant curricula. Traditional subject matter was replaced with courses on race, drugs, sex, crime, prejudice, and the environment. Objectives became more affective. Students were encouraged to clarify their values and “get in touch” with their feelings. Teachers had a new role model—the encounter group leader with beads and dungarees. His predecessor, the senior professor with the tweedy sport coat, was put out to pasture.
Then came the inevitable consequence of the sixties’ reforms. The social studies became confused in their mission and appeared to be adrift. Restoring a sense of direction has become vitally necessary.
I believe there is a way to proceed; my blueprint for the social studies is not original. It calls for a reexamination of the works of John Dewey and the application of many of Dewey’s principles.
Dewey was first and foremost a cognitivist. But he believed human experience, not reason alone, was the basis of knowledge. Thus, Dewey wanted human experience to be the basis of the social studies. The social studies would then be related to the life experiences of the learner. This does not mean the social studies would abandon theoretical rigor. It simply means rigor would be achieved inductively rather than deductively.
Following Dewey, I advocate social studies curricula which are both rigorous and relevant. These two objectives can be realized not by discarding the traditional social studies disciplines, but by teaching these disciplines differently.
Economics is the topic of my unit. The course I am developing is one semester in length. The objectives for this course are both cognitive and affective. On the cognitive level, students are expected to master basic economic concepts and apply these concepts to current economic problems. In short, students are expected to learn to think like economists.
This course differs from a traditional economics course in that each unit, chapter (three related lessons), and lesson has affective objectives related to the corresponding cognitive objectives. Affective and cognitive objectives are fused to produce a curriculum which is both rigorous and relevant to the personal concerns of late adolescents.
Let me provide examples of fusion curriculum from history, sociology, and psychology before presenting my material.
Suppose the topic is World War II. Most history teachers focus on causes, battles, and alliances. This is important, but so are the personal concerns of the students in the class who may enter the service upon graduation or who may be drafted someday. These students may be wondering, “Would I fight in a way I believed was wrong?” This affective concern may be stated more generally, “When do I obey authority and when do I follow my own conscience?” Thus, cognitive and affective objectives fuse naturally.
Or suppose the topic is ethnicity in sociology. A possible cognitive objective would be to chart ethnic populations in a given community. Another cognitive objective might involve discussing several theories of assimilation. A related affective objective asks students to consider, “How much does my ethnic identity mean to me?”
In psychology courses, students usually discuss defense mechanisms. A cognitive objective, written behaviorally, might be, “The student shall list and define six defense mechanisms.” An affective objective would be, “The student shall become aware how defense mechanisms influence his/her personality.” A natural fusion.
These are examples of the fusion curriculum I am attempting in economics. The following course outline lists the topics for each lesson and the corresponding affective objectives. In Section III of this paper, I will use three lessons to illustrate in detail how a fusion curriculum works.