Saturday, March 20, 2010

Democracy = Conference Proposals?

Looking for a good time? Looking to improve your research and writing skills and perhaps do some traveling in the meantime? Are you interested in determining what will be taught in history classes around the country? Hi. I'm Nick James and I'm here today to tell you about my work with the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). I've been a card-carrying member for the past handful of years. In that time I've traveled to foreign lands (Kansas), made new friends, and had barrels of laughs.

I got my membership renewal bill in the mail today. The reason I joined this organization was not because I thought it would bring me any more knowledge than my time in the school of education, it was because my revered adviser wanted to bring me along to a conference a number of years ago and I had to be a member to go. Since that time I've attended the annual conference every year, seeing Washington D.C., San Diego, Houston, and Atlanta along the way. My approach each year has varied from "must learn and attend as many lectures as possible" to "let's present and then walk around on a real aircraft carrier and then drink a bottle of wine on the beach." At any rate, it's been a good time getting around some major cities in this country that I might not have seen otherwise. I've also been on the ticket of a proposal every year that was accepted to be presented at the conference, which of course was a major draw to go.

Last year I signed up to review the conference proposals that people submit to the organization. What this means is that I rate about thirteen proposals and send the feedback to the conference committee for final approval. I can write "definitely reject" or "definitely accept" and have considerable sway in terms of what gets in or what doesn't. It, of course, makes me feel very powerful and excited to be determining what the leading social studies organization showcases at its national conference, though I'm not incredibly sure of the exact impact I have on the field or system.

At any rate, reviewing proposals strikes me as being very active in my field. In an education system where support for social studies is waning in the shadow of falling literacy levels, the job of figuring out what should be taught in history classes may be more important than ever. As NCSS (as well as other subject-specific national organizations) does have some sway in helping states determine their content standards, taking up the torch as a member, while at times uninterested, seemingly pointless, and mundane, is something that more people should do.

Much like the democracy we live in, if you do not show up to vote you have very little say in what happens to you. Many people complain that voting has no effect anyway, but that's in large part due to the fact that so many people think it doesn't matter. I'm of the opinion that you should vote first and then work to change the system if you're displeased with it. If you do not make your voice heard in the forum that's been designed to do so and then simply complain all the time about social/educational ills, your voice oftentimes loses all its power.

My Advice: Join your content area's national organization. Stay current on what's going on in the field. Don't just complain about what's happening around you in the wide world of education, actively work to make a difference in it. Doing what you think is best in your own classroom is fine and well, but it stops at the door if you don't take your ideas into a larger context. And I don't mean the staff lounge.

Today's Wine: 2005 Cardeal Dao Colheita Seleccionada. This was a discount wine bin grab. At first I was incredibly skeptical. I thought it lacked any body and was just a dry, tart, bland red. It ended up being pretty decent. I'm not sure how it happened. Perhaps I should look into that characteristic in wines.

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