Comment on the NCSS's New "Social Studies" Definition

National Association of Scholars

Editor's Note: The National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) has asked for comment from “social studies education stakeholders” on their revised definition of social studies. The National Association of Scholars and the Civics Alliance have submitted the following comment.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance oppose the NCSS's revised definition’s explicit incorporation of “civic engagement,” which euphemizes vocational training in progressive activism, its addition of the activist pseudo-disciplines of “indigenous studies” and “ethnic studies” to the list of social studies disciplines, and its use of “diverse,” which will be used as a prompt to inculcate the illiberal “diversity, equity, and inclusion” ideology in the guise of social studies education.

But we do not wish our opposition of the revised definition to be taken as an endorsement of the previous definition, which invokes a slightly earlier generation of politicized jargon, including “civic competence” and “culturally diverse.” Nor do we wish to be taken as endorsing any aspect of the NCSS’s College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, whose entire framework deforms social studies instruction toward politicization and action civics. Nor would we wish to be taken as endorsing any definition of social studies that avoids any reference to the American republic or the American nation—and neither definition of social studies mentions our country. The NCSS, by its excision, has abandoned any ambition to form national-minded Americans.

The National Education Association’s (NEA) charter definition of social studies in America had no such hesitation, for it stated plainly that, “the social studies of the American high school should have for their conscious and constant purpose the cultivation of good citizenship. … High national ideals and an intelligent and genuine loyalty to them should thus be a specific aim of the social studies in American high schools.”

The Civics Alliance’s own definition of social studies forthrightly repeats the NEA’s original call for civic-minded social studies. We open the Introduction of American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards with these words:

Americans’ birthright is freedom. We teach our children social studies, above all history and civics, so they can know what freedom is, where America’s ideas of freedom come from in the long history of Western civilization, how our ancestors achieved their freedom, how our laws, republican institutions, and limitation of the scope of government preserve our freedom, and what they need to do to preserve their country’s liberty. We also teach our children social studies so they can learn why their country deserves to be loved, and to learn what we owe to our ancestors—the heroes of the American past who deserve our gratitude because they created a free and prosperous country and bequeathed it to us, their posterity. We teach our children social studies so they can learn to understand the enduring character of the American nation and to love the customs that should define and unite us as a people.

Our children should learn who we Americans are—and then they should be taught about the nations, the faiths, and the history of the world. They should also learn America’s common language of liberty, patriotism, and national memory. We must instruct our children so they may become worthy of their ancestors by becoming full members of the American republic and the American nation, self-reliant citizens who respect the dignity and the rights of their fellow Americans, who love their country, and who cherish our liberties and our laws. Love, liberty, and the law—these are the touchstones of American social studies instruction.

We recommend that the NCSS entirely rethink its definition of social studies and revise that definition to accord with the spirit of the NEA’s charter definition of social studies, and in accord with American Birthright.

Photo by Adobe Stock

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