the new framework for social studies

One of my projects for the last several years has been to help write the C3 (College, Career and Citizenship) Framework for the social studies. It was released today by the National Council for the Social Studies, and CIRCLE issued a supportive release.

All states have social studies standards, but these documents tend to be incoherent, excessively long and detailed, and poorly aligned with tests, textbooks, and course requirements. The same has been true in other disciplines, and the now-controversial Common Core is an effort to standardize the standards for English and math to a better model. Our C3 Framework, instead, recognizes the right, power, and obligation of states to set their own standards. But it provides general guidance. Maryland and Kentucky are implementing the C3 Framework, and I hope other states will follow suit. The more states use it, the more the market will grow for improved texts and materials, tests and assessments, and teacher education. Unless they are implemented well, new standards will not make much difference. But they are a start.

One thing I especially like about the C3 is the “instructional arc,” which goes from “developing questions and planning inquiries” to “communicating conclusions and taking informed action.” We authors realized that students don’t get to decide what questions to ask, in a vacuum. The teacher decides that it is time to study Native Americans or the New Deal. But we wanted to indicate that asking questions is the start of real intellectual work.

“Taking informed action” may be controversial, but it is essential, because we learn advanced civic skills through practice. I would make two points in support of the “Informed Action” section: 1) Action can mean many things, not just community service or activism. Solving problems within the classroom or managing a student group would also count. And 2) action is not a newfangled addition to the social studies curriculum. It was a stronger component of civics in the mid-20th century, when courses called “community civics” and “problems of democracy” were very common. It is already mentioned in many state standards, albeit in miscellaneous ways. If anything, action has diminished as political science has become the model for high school civics. We are just putting a bit of it back in.