The Compelling “Why?” Continued

Posted on: Tue, 02/04/2020 - 09:00

This week’s guest bloggers are social studies teachers Shundra Banks from Gov. TJ High, Janvier Beaver from Linganore High, Jerry Donald from Middletown High, and Beth Strakonsky from Frederick High. They share their thoughts about responding to students asking, “Why do I have to learn this?” and in some cases to those asking why they teach.

Guest Blogger Shundra Banks, social studies teacher at Gov TJ High School

Why do you teach? That is often the question I am asked. However, with the present state of the union, the question becomes deeper: Why do you teach government?

Here’s the simple truth. I am a lover of learning, and I want to produce lifelong learners who greatly value this country. I want to produce countrymen with a passion that goes beyond, “oh that’s just politics.” I teach government so that our future leaders understand that their impact starts now! There is no need to wait to understand government. I want them to realize that their immediate roles, whether large or small, make a difference. There is no time to be apathetic. I teach government so students will be able to articulate and explain their rights as persons along with their government’s proper purpose in ensuring that these rights are a reality for all.

Government is important no matter where you are in this world. Being able to explain concepts and then give students a real-world look at the concepts in action is such a satisfaction. Leaving the classroom and seeing government work is powerful. My students love to express their “aha” moments. Learning about government gives them the opportunity to be productive global citizens from the United States of America in the proudest of ways, understanding what government means here and for many around the world.

In order for this to be realized, students must also understand that as citizens and candidates for citizenship they are bestowed with certain duties and responsibilities. My job is to make sure they understand the tools they have to be productive citizens. There are tools such as voting, but I also teach them how to use the tools of the media in an effective, unbiased manner, rendering students members of a well-educated public. I love to see my and other students stop by my class for a discussion on what’s current in the news. I know I have them thinking critically, and they are interested! While there are a plethora of reasons why I teach, these are some of my favorite “why I teach government” reasons.

Guest blogger social studies teacher Janvier Beaver from Linganore High School

photo of Janvier BeaverThe study of economics can be one of the most exciting subjects. Business is the number one demanded degree in college, and taking courses in high school gives students a head start. However, when I ask students why they took the course, the majority say they want to make money and understand it. Today’s high school students grew up during the great recession, and the memory has them curious about how it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. Many remember the ‘for sale’ signs throughout neighborhoods in Frederick County, and some of them moved here because of parents having to find new jobs in the region.  

Economics can be defined as how society uses its limited resources. This leads to one of the biggest and most significant items students learn in economics, scarcity. Breaking scarcity down for students means helping them realize how resources are limited and the major ways scarcity impacts their daily life.

Another concept to get students thinking is the law of supply and demand. With the first sign of snow, I ask the question, “Will salt, snow shovels, and snow blowers go up in price?” Great classroom discussion questions are also “What is more valuable: water or a diamond?” and “How will a shortage in oil impact the price of iphones and oranges?” These questions get students to look at the subject in an entirely different viewpoint from other classes.

“Why does this subject matter?” is the million dollar question in every subject. In economics, everything we discuss matters and daily impacts the individual. The biggest thing a student gets out of taking an economics class is working on problem-solving skills. If the country is in a deep recession, how would you solve this problem? Almost every current event can be linked to the study of economics. Understanding the motivation of foreign governments and how our economy works is critical to being a good citizen. One of the goals of my class is for students to better understand the world around them. No matter what the future holds, learning about economics helps people become more successful.

Guest blogger social studies teacher Jerry Donald from Middletown High School

I can think of nothing that better prepares a student for active citizenship than our course in Government. In a world where facts are confused with opinion and propaganda, where respect for democratic processes is subverted by the ideology of win-at-all-costs, and where partisanship is often prized above citizenship, Government provides young students with a base of understanding our Constitution and institutions of governance.

Students in Government look at the forces that shape our political climate, such as economic interests and cultural values. We consider how race and gender are viewed within the law and how that has changed through the decades. We also consider federalism, especially how it impacts state and local government through grants.

We look at public opinion, how that opinion is measured, and what impact it has on public officials. Each student is asked to consider what influence public opinion would have if the student were an elected official. For example, when political questions arise, whose opinion would matter the most? Your campaign contributors? Your constituents? Your party? Are you willing to trade votes to get things accomplished, or is that selling out?

In economics we look at budgeting and consider the idea of opportunity cost--for example, money spent to build a road cannot also be spent to build a park. In foreign policy the same principle can apply--supporting country A may be seen as detrimental by country B.

In the end, these ideas and more are necessary considerations for active citizens. All decisions have consequences, some unintended, and those consequences then create the need for the next set of decisions. There is no end to history, just a new set of challenges for us to face. Hopefully, our course in Government readies students for those challenges.

Guest blogger social studies teacher Beth Strakonsky at Frederick High School

Each semester for the past 35 years, I am proud to start the first day of class by telling students, “I love my job.” I do love my job, and, as I tell my class, I have a responsibility to do the best job I possibly can because as Christa McCullife said, “I touch the future; I teach.” 

Being a social studies teacher allows me to share my passion for the human story in creative and thought-provoking ways. Psychology, in particular, engages students in understanding the human condition. It provides them opportunities to understand not only how biological functioning affects cognition, emotion, behavior, and learning but also opportunities to apply the information directly to their lives. Using research principles and content knowledge, my students learn to apply information through critical thinking and discussion.

We are living in a STEM-driven world. It is exciting and revolutionary, but it does not discount the social sciences. Understanding human thought, behavior, and emotion helps drive technology and research initiatives. When students learn more about themselves and others, they can be more empathetic, insightful, and problem-solution oriented. I am consistently rewarded when students let me know how frequently they use and apply what they have learned in class to their lives. This would be one of the major goals of education:  application. We are, indeed, touching the future.