Sunday, August 3, 2014

An overview of my Western Civ Course

Hello and welcome to Western Civilization. The purpose of this segment is to consider the following questions: What are some of the differences b/t social studies and history? And how will these differences impact how we approach this course?

I suspect that many of you consider social studies and history as synonymous terms. That is, if you asked 50 people what do you study in social studies class, many will say, the past.

And if you asked another 50 people what do you study in history class, the vast majority would give the same answer, the past.

In this class, we are going to make a distinction b/t social studies and history.

While simplistic, let’s define history as the study of the past.

What, then, is social studies? I propose that social studies is a discipline that is interested in people.

Notice that we are not saying people in the past. Or even people in the present. Social studies is concerned with humanity.

To study humanity, we are going to use concepts of the social sciences, such as psychology, economics, anthropology, and sociology.

The textbook for this course is titled Modern World History. And, in many ways, the authors of this text do not present content in a way that is in harmony with the social studies.

That is ok, as long as we do not treat the textbook as the course.

Your schedule says that this is a Western Civilization course.

Many of you who have siblings who are currently attending college or who have graduated will discover that often this course, Western Civ, is offered in two parts, Western Civ I and II.

If you ask people who have taken Western Civ what topics are studied, a variety of topics will be listed, including the Greeks, Romans, the Catholic Church, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and even World Wars I and II.

This course is more in line with Western Civ II, focusing on the last 5 or 6 hundred years in European history.

If we allow it to, there is a ton of information in this time span that can easily overwhelm all of us.

Though, I propose that by treating this course as a social studies class, as opposed to a history survey course, we can guard against superficially covering a ton of content. Content that will likely disappear from your mind soon after you are tested.

If you surveyed the same people we mentioned earlier, asking them what students typically DO in history or social studies classes, you will likely get a list that includes the following: taking notes, watching videos, multiple choice questions, projects, maps, discussions, and textbook questions.

There is nothing inherently wrong with many of these items, yet we need to be careful that we have a clear purpose for doing ANY of them.

If the overarching purpose of this course is to study humanity, then we need to always frame what we are doing with that in mind.

In this class, you will not study content simply to learn the information you are going to be tested on.

You will examine the world around you to help generate questions. Questions that you will then use as you study the content of the course.

You will examine theories of knowledge. When we say we know something, what does that actually mean? How certain are we in the knowledge we currently possess? And how can we ever know about the past?

You will learn how to analyze arguments and construct and defend your own arguments about the social world.

You will work on developing and refining your communication skills, honing both spoken and written forms of expression.   

You will learn and apply a variety of conceptual tools used by social scientists.

As this course progresses, it is hoped that you will come to appreciate how complex reality is.

Nevertheless, the complexity of the social world is something you have been grappling with since birth. In fact, a class that embraces this complexity is likely to be much more engaging than one that does not.

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