Social Education 58(1), 1994, p. 4
National Council for the Social Studies

National Standards: A Common Purpose

H. Michael Hartoonian
Within the social studies community there seems to be confusion about the role of Content Area National Standards. We seem to believe that the several academic subjects of social studies should compete with one another, and disregard the notion that they might serve a common purpose.
A common or shared purpose can unify even the most profound differences. We cannot, however, come to the promise of shared purpose until we overcome an old divisive idea. In medieval Europe there existed a notion that came to be known as the concept of the limited good. This idea asserted that there was only so much good to go around, and if someone or some group was better than someone else, some other group would have to be less good or evil.

Separation and fragmentation are loose upon the contemporary landscape and within the academic community. These lead one to ask: If we cannot bring our own disciplines together, how can we expect to bring diverse citizens and our republic together? How can e pluribus unum have meaning in a context best described as subject area imperialism?

Perhaps the best way to think about this issue of unity and diversity is to reinvent a common purpose.

The intrinsic abilities and characteristics in these questions can provide a clue to our common purpose. That purpose is best stated as the survival of the republic. Our common purpose is to provide every student with the keys to open reservoirs of knowledge and create the quality of character necessary for our survival. The foundation of our nation is built on the belief in the intelligence, ability, integrity, and cooperative spirit of our citizens. This foundation can be constructed only by citizens acquainted with the reservoirs of knowledge locked in the separate and integrated academic subjects of the social studies.

Achieving this common purpose will take the cooperation of all of us. We can no longer afford to hold to the concept of the limited good.

The several standards in history, geography, civics, economics, and social studies should be used together under the umbrella of social studies. In fact, the social studies standards encourage educators to use the other standards as state and local curriculum and assessment designs are developed. The social studies standards provide the general curriculum contours and content themes, whereas the other academic standards provide necessary content details. Together, we can implement programs that will open the knowledge reservoirs to our students. Separately, we will frustrate our several good intentions and end up implementing only the concept of the limited good. We can and must do better.

H. Michael Hartoonian is Supervisor of Social Studies Education for the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, Madison, Wisconsin.