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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

“Who’s who” in social studies

We need a fresh approach to a tired subject

For a decade and more, I’ve been wrestling with some ideas that could reshape the way Christian school and homeschool students engage in what we’ve typically called “social studies.” 

At least, we used to call it social studies. It had its moments, but it wasn’t usually the high point of the day. We typically didn’t allow the use of the word boring at our house. But if we had, social studies would have been an apt target. 

That, of course, was part of the reason why in 1981 we launched the God’s World News series of news periodicals for kids. For nearly 40 years now, we’ve coached literally millions of children from pre-K through high school in how to interact with the day’s news—and always from a distinctly Biblical perspective.

While I’m thankful indeed for that four-decade run helping Christian families get their arms around current events, I’ve come back repeatedly to think about the gaps we’ve left in providing schools and families with the same expertise in some aspects of world history. 

Students will develop the skills and habits of sorting influences and pondering values.

So here’s an impossibly brief outline of what I’ve been thinking. At the core of my dream are two components. The first would be the development of a consensus list of approximately 250 of history’s most notable people. The list would be dynamic—no one pretends to have the final word. The list would include heroes and villains.

Component No. 2 would be a clothesline. Literally. The line would be hung conspicuously but accessibly where the students normally do their work.

Every Monday morning through the school year, the name and very brief biography of another famous person from the past would be randomly added to the clothesline, creating a timeline. That same person would be the subject of attention at schools and homeschools around the world. Then, through the rest of that week, participating students would be guided by teachers and/or parents in appropriate research, interviews, math, artwork, or music—or any related exploration or compilation that popped up about that person. 

Over 8-10 years, from kindergarten to junior high, we’d be putting the focus on about 240 notable people who have, in various ways, shaped the world we now live in. At the end of each week, a student should know where that person fits on a world map, where he or she fits on history’s timeline, what governmental and economic structures helped shape that person, and how that person’s life might (or might not) have reflected a Biblical worldview.

This is a realistic, holistic approach to “social studies.” It prompts us to quit viewing history, geography, civics, economics, and worldview thinking as separate subjects and see them instead as a robust whole.

Not for a minute is the point of such an exercise just to fill young minds with facts and figures and names and dates. The goal instead is to introduce boys and girls—from their earliest years—to real men and women from other times and other cultures who have made the world what it is today. Through such contact, students will develop the skills and habits of sorting out influences, analyzing movements, evaluating motives, and pondering values.

Nor is the cast of characters meant only to feature heroes and champions—or to divert attention from the warts and foibles of those who are in fact heroic. We want to equip boys and girls with the tools for thinking honestly about such issues.

Of the half dozen experimental education enterprises I’ve been part of, this one registers high on my “to do” list. But my next birthday will be my 80th, which suggests that if it is going to get done, someone else may have to do it. That’s OK, if I can at least watch the process from a good seat. If the whole suggestion intrigues you too, send me a note detailing your interest. You can email me at jbelz@wng.org, or send me a traditional note at P.O. Box 20002, Asheville, NC 28802.  

Comments

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  • TH
    Posted: Wed, 10/28/2020 05:48 am

    I wish this would have been in place during my school days. :)

  • Leeper
    Posted: Thu, 10/29/2020 07:21 am

    I love the article on social studies. It will make history come to life instead of just facts. Fortunately in my small Christian school they had a small library on books on people  Elii Whitney,  Booker T Washington, Betsy Ross, Goetge Washington and other that made history alive. I hated history in school but love the books that make. It come to life

     On the voting third party article I could not disagree more. We should look at policies not on character. Trump has done more for prolife and Christian liberty than any other president.