The main type of illiteracy we face today is inability to read and write. It’s more deceptive. It is mathematical and statistical, financial, geographical, historical, psychological, cultural, sociological and scientific. It distorts numericalism, ahistoricism, ethnocentrism, and essentialism, as well as other conceptual, analytical, and cognitive distortions.
As a thought test, what if we consider one of the aims of lower-level education in the social sciences as an attempt to combat a variety of unexpected, simple, straightforward thoughts that apply to mathematics and personal decision-making? If one of our learning objectives is to expose graduates to errors in knowledge, reasoning, and reasoning that occur extensively, but often subconsciously – or worse, used for manipulation and exploitation?
Social scientific illiteracy, I’m sure, is just as harmful as scientific and cultural illiteracy. Yet apart from the need for students to take one or two classes in the social sciences, our institutions do not consider separate social science courses as an attempt to acquaint students with the growing thinking defects from social scientific ignorance and disability. Apply basic social science concepts, methods, and analytical techniques systematically.
It is one thing to accept certain scientific results as works of faith. After all, very few highly educated adults are truly able to grasp the foundations of contemporary scientific thinking about cosmic or quantum mechanics, let alone astrophysics, molecular or computational biology, or neuroscience.
Yet works of faith are not required for social scientific thinking. Undergraduates, regardless of the major, are capable of transcribing basic psychological experiments, conducting data analysis, conducting ethnographic, economic, geographical, historical and sociological research, and testing and applying concepts from political science, sociology and related fields. Everyone is able to understand causation and interrelationships and patterns and selections.
This does not mean that the social sciences are simpler than the natural or physical sciences, but rather that the methods and methods of interpretation of the social sciences are more accessible.
For that, you might well say: Lower-level social science classes don’t already do that? In some cases, the answer is a resounding “yes” – although there is an unhealthy tendency to undermine the knowledge and skills of the social sciences through discipline, rather than addressing the core issues more holistically.
Here, I would just like to suggest that we do not rely so much on the elementary curriculum in a particular social science branch at present, but consider offering one or more broad courses that teach students how to research, think, analyze and apply results. Like a sociologist.
Such a course would introduce the undergraduates to the basics:
Social science research methodology
An introduction to the methods used by social scientists to collect, evaluate, and analyze qualitative and quantitative data, including archival research, comparative research, anthropological research, experimental research, participatory observation, and survey research.
Social science theory
An introduction to the explanatory framework that social scientists use to understand observed information and behavior and other social phenomena.
An introduction to the tools and techniques that social scientists use to transform data into useful information.
Applying the insights of social policy in public policy and daily life
In policy making, clinical, educational, and therapeutic interventions and how social scientific information, research, and theories are used (or misused) in private life.
Since educators are trained in specific fields, the idea of teaching a more artificial approach to the social sciences strikes many as hostile, superficial, artificial, and unpredictable. As discipline experts, most feel comfortable teaching only within certain disciplines and fear that they will not be able to do justice to the breadth and depth of the relevant fields of study.
The points are well taken.
But I suspect that the reluctance to practice a more holistic approach to K-12 social studies has led to much reluctance. Often, I fear, those K-12 courses will turn into bullshit sessions about current events or a mixture of superficial topics that require a deeper level of understanding.
However, with fewer and fewer students majoring in the social sciences, we need to ensure that graduates who focus on business, communication, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and natural sciences become familiar with the methods, theories, and applications of the social sciences.
A more broad-based approach to lower-level social science education may offer a side benefit: persuading more students to master one of the social science disciplines.
Let me offer you a quick history lesson.
In 1961, Colombia “suspended” a course in its defined core curriculum. CC-B, a sequel to CC-A, a still-existing survey of Western moral and political philosophy and the University of Theology from Plato in the early 20’s.M Century focuses on current stress issues through the lens of relatively recent work in social theory, economics, ethics, philosophy, and contemporary theology.
Unlike CC-A, whose curriculum changed very slowly and increasingly, CC-B’s curriculum was much more dynamic, focusing on economic issues during the Great Depression of the 1930s, ethnographic and sociological studies of the 1940s and early 1950s. Perspectives, and the work of policy are viewed by personalities such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Reinhold Nibuhr, and Paul Tilich in the mid- and late 1950s and early 1960s. CC-B was also a strong presenter, not only did it critically adhere to current values and attitudes, but also to address contemporary debates through the lens of recent works that spoke deeply to the underlying issues of the day.
Undoubtedly, no single course can be expected to solve the complex social problems of our time, whether they involve privilege, inequality, globalization, (northern) colonialism, biology, environment or emerging technology and automation.
Of course, something gets lost when we encounter text without scales given by a certain discipline, which brings its own method, vocabulary, content and agenda.
But even with such an approach something is achieved. Such a course is interdisciplinary by design. Instructors become active participants in the learning process rather than simply acting as subject matter experts. After all, the most valuable skill by liberal art – critical inquiry, research, analysis. And interpretation, and theorization – became the focus of the learning experience.
The death of CC-B reflected the triumph of discipline-based thinking within the academy. While Colombia encouraged departments to develop courses that exploit cross-disciplinary connections and explore links between disciplinary foundations and contemporary issues, most departments simply provide a general introduction to their specific field.
Outcome: Students have inadvertently received the message that no work of philosophy, social science, ethics or theology published in the last 75 years is worthy of the same kind of exploratory analysis as the great books of the distant past. The Colombian students were also explicitly told that the issues that plague thinkers today – the nature of power, stratification and inequality, and racial, gender, and national conflicts – are not worthy of the integrated focus on which the current key locations rely. Liberalism and its critics and opponents.
Worse still, most students did not find any serious role in the range of vocabulary or interpretation schools that defined the social sciences as a whole.
The type of course I envision would not just be an updated version of the Colombian CC-B, although it must address one or more current defined problems and controversies through the combined lens and methods of the social sciences. Fields and programs that now share the Centre’s platform with older branches of anthropology, economics, geography, history, psychology, and sociology: women’s studies, gender and sexuality studies, critical ethnic and racial studies, among others.
Students in such courses should also be introduced to the social science research methodology, because only then can they properly understand the challenges, limitations and complexities of data collection and analysis.
I have recently read a number of interesting, if not most, critical, social science research critiques that have had a strong impact on policy makers. A recent study questioned whether children who enrolled in the Tennessee Pre-Kindergarten Program in 2009 and 2010 had worse test scores and behavioral results than sixth graders. Another study reviews that shows that ethnic studies courses “increase student achievement in the long run বিশেষ especially among students of color.”
In a democracy, social science literacy is not an absurdity. For informed and responsible citizenship we must all be able to achieve a level of civic, economic, historical and sociological understanding that allows us to critically evaluate research and theories that are subject to policy decisions.
Then, on a more personal level, economic, psychological and sociological insights are essential if we want to gain more self-awareness of why people behave like us, manage our behavior and emotions better and make more conscious decisions.
We all need to think like a sociologist, replacing innocent, everyday thinking with a more social scientific approach. Delivery requirements are not sufficient. We need to think historically, spatially, mathematically and interculturally. We have to think like an economist, a political scientist, a psychologist and a sociologist.
If this is indeed the case, then we must think more rigorously about how all of our graduates can achieve an effective level of social science literacy and an acceptable degree of systematic, theoretical, and analytical sophistication.
Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.