Social Studies: A Right, Not a Privilege – Chancellor Fariña Promises to Reinstate Social Studies

Our team read with great relief that NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has acknowledged the horrifying fact that “a lot” of NYC elementary and middle schools have dropped social studies. She makes it crystal clear that, under her administration, depriving students of a strong social-studies curriculum is unacceptable. Her remarks, however, fall short of explaining why so many schools dropped or skimped on a subject as essential as social studies.

The truth is that state funding to schools fell dramatically at the same time as the state ramped up pressure for students to perform on high-stakes standardized tests in English and math. With bare-bones budgets, school-level educators and administrators in New York City and other underfunded school districts had no choice but to look for ways to cut corners. Students have paid the price. Many students lost not only social studies, but instructional time and supports in other important subjects as well; science, the arts, physical education, library sciences, foreign languages, and family and career studies.

The chancellor should get credit for speaking out about the educational neglect that thousands of New York children experience every day. She is right about how important it is that students “don’t think everything begins and ends in their local neighborhoods.” But let’s be clear: providing students with the social studies curriculum and essential related activities, like field trips, that they need to become capable civic participants or, as Fariña calls them, “global citizens,” isn’t just the right thing to do—these learning opportunities are part of the sound basic education to which all New York students have a right.

Ensuring that all children and families, not just a select few, receive ample access to these opportunities will require more money. Where in the NYC Department of Education’s current budget will this money for social studies come from? Is there sufficient funding in the current budget to enrich social studies and also reinstate arts education, hire librarians, provide physical education and languages other than English, and ensure needed supports for English language learners, among many other essential opportunities and supports to which thousands of students currently lack sufficient access?

Social studies is vitally important. And, since taking office, the chancellor has made a number of other exciting but piecemeal promises about the types and quality of learning opportunities that students can expect under her leadership. What we have yet to see is the new NYC DOE’s vision to ensure all students the full range of learning opportunities to which they are entitled. What is the timeline and strategy for investigating and addressing the full set of constitutional violations that continue to undermine educational opportunities?

At some point, the city must acknowledge publicly that to honor these promises to respect the state constitution and to restore the all of the essentials that make up students’ right to the “opportunity for a sound basic education” will require that New York State make good on its school-funding obligations. Each day that the chancellor and the mayor delay joining CEE, students, parents, and advocacy allies throughout the state in calling on the state government to fulfill its constitutional obligation is another day of missed opportunities for New York children.

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