When I was a freshman in high school in 1993, there was a class called Current Events that was designated only for seniors. But by the time I got to be a junior, the Great School Budget Crisis hit, and some classes were no longer offered, including Current Events.
I really feel that if schools want to create well-rounded students who are ready to be a part of the adult world, then a current events course is mandatory. Students don’t watch the news like we used to. When I was growing up, my family sat down to dinner every night (or at least five to six times a week) and watched the news. We subscribed to the local and state newspaper. And we discussed things in the news. (Even though I don’t agree with my parent’s political stance now, at least they tried to explain things from their point of view at the time.) But there are many students who hardly ever pay attention to what’s going on in the world.
I personally think that the role of social studies courses is to explicitly discuss current events. It may say that in the state standards that they are required to, but from what I’ve observed (and I’ve observed many social studies classes at many different grade levels from my past jobs), there is very little being done. In one seventh grade class, the teacher had mentioned the war in Iraq, and one girl was very serious when she said, “We’re in a war? Are you serious? When did that happen?” We assume that parents are involved in their children’s lives, but we can’t assume anymore. The role of teachers has now been extended to have to teach them about what’s going on in the world and sex education. (Both are topics that if not taught “correctly,” then the parents seriously complain. If it were such a big deal, then teach your own kids!)
I believe that teaching current events allows the students to ask questions that they may not feel comfortable asking their parents. The class is about learning to decipher the political stance of the media and how to do your own research to find the real truths. It’s about learning your history and the details about an issue. It’s about being able to debate an issue with anyone. It’s about being able to learn the other side of an issue enough to debate it and acknowledge that we may not have all the facts. Current events should entail learning about our basic government set-up, learning important court cases and studying our Bill of Rights with all of its amendments. History repeats itself, and by studying it, it helps to understand the current wars and conflicts as well as what has worked and not worked in the past. We need to explain what’s going on in today’s news so that they will have a fair understanding of what’s going on. Textbooks don’t need to be expensive. A year’s subscription to TIME magazine costs $20, which is much cheaper than most textbooks. Almost every school has access to CNN and the Internet.
I would love the opportunity to teach a current events course to high school students. The skills learned in a current events course (namely research skills, effective writing skills, critical thinking skills, debate skills, ability in finding unbiased sources, etc.) are inter-curricular, meaning they pan across all courses. You can use these skills in every other class that you will take. This is why I don’t think we need to wait until students become seniors in order to study current events. We need to start teaching students how to think independently and that we belong to a global community from the time they are in middle school, or at least a high school freshman.