Social studies commonly find itself on the defensive side. The charge is multipronged: from policymakers seeking to restrict social studies’ space in our educational curriculum, to parents questioning the opportunities provided by the social studies profession, or to citizens doubting social studies’ contribution to their chosen careers.
As a social science university lecturer, I’ve always used three general rationales to affirm social studies’ importance for Filipinos’ basic and general education. They fall under the personal, national, and global. Alongside these three rationales, social studies are crucial in our curriculum for another, less discussed, reason: It helps one become an active participant in everyday conversations.
I discuss the three general rationales and, thereafter, examine how social studies relate to our everyday conversations.
First, social studies is useful in solving our personal problems. A useful concept is the sociological imagination: Simply put, it helps an individual understand her private life, her society, and the connection between the two. It highlights that neither an individual’s life nor the bigger society can be understood without grasping both. Consequently, solving one’s private trouble necessitates understanding corresponding public issues.
For instance, we understand that seemingly personal problems like difficulty finding a job may not be due to individuals’ shortcomings. Instead, this difficulty is tied to larger social forces such as high population growth and the current market scenario where the focus is on macroeconomic policies, including inflation targeting.
Second, social studies are vital for national development. Social studies help people become good citizens and become capacitated to contribute to governance and democracy. Students develop national consciousness by examining history, culture, and society. Social studies also equip students with critical lenses to spot, understand, and solve social issues.
Students develop national consciousness by examining history, culture, and society. Social studies also equip students with critical lenses to spot, understand, and solve social issues.
For example, we get to realize that adolescent pregnancy can never be solved simply by advocating for abstinence. Instead, it can be tackled through a whole-of-society approach. Providing social protection for adolescents and their babies can be done in the short term, while forging horizontal and vertical partnerships to deliver comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health services can be done in the longer term.
Third, social studies is crucial in a globalized world. It equips us with a multicultural sensibility to deal with people of different backgrounds. Importantly, social studies highlight social issues that transcend national borders and develop strategies to address these problems on an international scale.
Examples include worsening climate change and democratic backsliding that threaten the most vulnerable across the globe. Moreover, social studies acclimate students with solutions to achieve collective action among countries, fueled by demands from their constituents.
Notwithstanding its benefits for critical thinking on the personal, national, and global levels, social studies also hone us to be better everyday conversationalists. The concepts and perspectives learned in social studies equip students with the language to deliberate with each other on their struggles and aspirations. They also accustom students to be better listeners who are empathetic and reflexive.
Everyday conversations are crucial mainly for their social and political power. Their social power lies in their capacity to shed light on larger social structures. For instance, a simple statement like, “I was late for school again” reflects multiple realities around the state of public transportation in the Philippines and the efforts of politicians promising to solve the transport crisis.
Conversations build stronger communities and more robust democracies. It facilitates deliberation on crucial problems and their solutions.
Conversations also hold political power. In a country where voting patterns are seen to coincide with one’s region, social studies open avenues to understand and talk to people outside our region. Conversations build stronger communities and more robust democracies. It facilitates deliberation on crucial problems and their solutions. They can also hold our leaders accountable by continuously being avenues to determine collective problems and demand better solutions that work for everyone, especially the most vulnerable. This, after all, is the essence of social justice.
Social studies are a tool and a platform for conversations that are imperative in a polarized society like the Philippines. This is a philosophy that I have always carried in my nearly seven years of teaching social studies at the tertiary level. Students will always come from different backgrounds and will have different experiences. Because of this, they will also have different lenses for understanding social issues. I’ve always made it a point to assure them that sharing their varying thoughts in class will not derail, but instead, move the course toward a more comprehensive understanding of social realities.
Nevertheless, it should be stated that facilitating conversations among people of different backgrounds and with different perspectives is never easy. But by appreciating how each of us is affected by social structures that permeate our lives, albeit in different ways, agreeing on certain grounds becomes easier.
Social studies being on the defensive end is unfortunate, but not without value. Continuously examining what social studies can provide makes it dynamic and up-to-date with social realities. Importantly, it helps social studies change alongside the society it purports to make sense of. However, social studies being defensive comes with a huge caveat: the conversation has to be open and multi-sectoral.
Social sciences have various personal, national, and global contributions. Most importantly, it gives us the tools and platform to engage in conversations that drive socioeconomic development, as well as political and social justice. So when social studies find itself on the defensive side again, let the response be: Let’s talk.