By Thomas Herman, CGA Director
One of the most important events on the CGA calendar is the annual conference of the California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS). The conference is a very valuable opportunity to interact directly with educators, to demonstrate the value of the CGA, and to connect with other organizations aligned with social studies education to develop and nurture lines of collaboration. Because of the importance of the event, I wanted to report back to CGA members about my perspectives on the conference and our organization's relationship with CCSS.
This is the second time I have participated in the annual conference. In 2014, the CGA registered as an exhibitor. This year the CGA was a gold sponsor, which meant we got a prime booth location in the exhibit hall, recognition and a half-page ad in the program, and were able to insert a flier into the packet that all attendees received at registration. We made the most of the investment and the booth location by lining our booth space with colorful and interesting historical maps, all of which were raffled off at the closing of the exhibit hall. We talked to dozens of teachers distributed hundreds of free maps, promotional items like pencils and pens, and even gave away more than three dozen atlases to classroom educators. Two CGA-sponsored sessions were included in the program. Dr. Emily Schell presented "
Geo-Literacy: Engaging Students in Spatial Thinking" on Friday afternoon, and I presented "
21st Century Learning + Online Tools = Next Generation Atlas" on Saturday afternoon. In addition to those two presentations, I identified ten other presentations tagged by the presenters for including geography content.
Each of these presentations was an important contribution to the conference, but this means that only 10% of conference sessions featured geography.
Geography needs to have a stronger presence at the conference.
I will hold up my hand and say that the CGA did not do enough to encourage Teacher Leaders and Teacher Consultants to give presentations on effective approaches to geography education. In my opinion, the trained educators and geography advocates who count themselves as members of the CGA are our single greatest resource, and I would like to see more involvement in this conference. If you want to come to the conference and share your experience and enthusiasm, CGA will provide financial support to offset the cost of travel to the meeting. If you have an idea about how to engage educators at our booth, we want to hear your ideas. Next year's conference will be in Costa Mesa onMarch 4-6, 2016, and then Sacramento will play host on March 3-5, 2017.
It is up to us to demonstrate what contemporary geography education looks like and to carry forward the important messages that 1) geographic perspectives
tap into students' excitement for learning about their place in the world, and 2)
geographic knowledge and skills are keys to preparing our 21st century workforce and citizenry.
Please join with your fellow CGA members to leave a big impression on these two events!
I hope I have made clear that it is up to us to make geography an important part of the CCSS Annual Conference. I feel it is important that we invest our time and energy in the CCSS so that geography is well-represented among the social studies/sciences. There is certainly a point to be made that geography straddles the physical and social sciences, and I think we also need to increase our involvement in science, but within K-12 education geography has traditionally been identified as one of four subject areas alongside economics, civics, and history. So the social studies is our home, for better or worse, and the CCSS is an important representative body for the subject of geography. This is why I want CGA members to be more active at the CCSS conference, and it is also why I am somewhat concerned about the current state of affairs within the CCSS.
To be blunt, I think the CCSS has followed the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in abandoning geography in some critical ways. For reasons on which I can only speculate, geography has been excluded in both significant and symbolic ways. For example, the CCSS membership booth at the conference was distributing new buttons promoting the social studies. Each button played off of "Keep Calm and Carry On," with one touting history, one political science, and one civics education. There was no button featuring geography, maps, or knowing your place in the world. One could dismiss this as a simple oversight, but this exclusion/omission is also reflected in places where it is much more concerning. The Legislative Breakfast and Government Relations Committee Meetings are staples of the annual conference, and this year the leadership of the CCSS was advocating for members to actively support two appropriations requests. Quoting from a sample letter:
Over the past two years, federal support for instruction in civics and history has been eliminated.
This lack of support contributes to what retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor recently described as a "crisis" in civic education.
To promote innovative teaching in civics and history, CCSS is requesting $30 million for competitive grants for non-profit organizations with expertise in innovative, engaging approaches to civic education through the Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE).
CCSS also supports a similar competitive grant fund of $30 million to support improvements in history instruction."
While support for history and civics education are important, this effort by CCSS and NCSS completely ignores the fact that federal support for geography instruction has never been provided under the current ESEA authorizing legislation, known as No Child Left Behind. In 2012, this meant that civics education was $250 million ahead of geography, and history was $1 billion ahead of geography, in terms of federal funding support. If there is a crisis in education, would it not involve the one core subject identified under NCLB that has never been supported by federal funds?
I simply cannot accept the choice of CCSS and NCSS to pull out two of the four disciplines of social studies and try to rally support around funding for those two subjects while at the same time being completely silent on the importance of the other two. This is an abdication of responsibility, and I also believe it is a disastrous political strategy at a time when it would make most sense for the social studies to stick together, insist on their relevance, and counter the narrowing of K-12 curriculum . If social studies is in fact our K-12 home, then we can not afford to have this kind of selective representation at the state and national levels. I have reached out to NCSS and CCSS leaders to express disappointment and to make it clear that I would not support their appropriations requests. I encourage each of you reading this to consider your relationship to the CGA, CCSS, and NCSS and let your voice be heard as you feel appropriate.
In summary, I have two messages. The first is for us to collectively invest in CCSS and make the best kinds of geography education, and the strongest cases for geography education, echo throughout the conference and the conversations that happen there. We need to take collective responsibility for speaking up for geography.
The second message is for everyone to think about what they expect from the CCSS and NCSS in terms of representing geography in its publications, events, activities, and policy initiatives. Make your desires known and request that these organizations represent your interests. Speak out, get involved, and make these organizations work for all of the social studies, including geography.