The mid-year transition from English classes to Social Studies classes can often be a disorienting one; however, I have already comfortably traded in my reading of Shakespeare for that of global issues and current events. The Globe and Mail newspaper has been finding its way into my lap considerably more often, and class discussions have turned their focus towards many aspects of what we like to call ‘Social Studies’: politics, government, morality, humanity, religion, culture, etc. And as much as I admittedly enjoy English, the renewed surge of curiosity towards all of these facets of our day-to-day interactions has been very much welcomed on my part, even with the frequent bi-products of utter frustration or seemingly unapproachable philosophical inquiries. In other words, Social Studies has proved both refreshing and though-provoking; in only the first few weeks, myself and other students have already found themselves periodically expressing an internal ‘Gah!’ at our sometimes puzzling discussions. However, as I look ahead into the rest of the semester, I hope to find that my experiences from Social Studies last year will aid me into beginning to unravel what lays ahead, including those inevitable ‘gah moments’.
As I think back to the beginnings in grade 9 Social Studies, I can recall feelings of apprehension towards the philosophical nature that our classes often took on. When discussions turned toward topics like morality or justice, it is easy for one to consider these realms of discussion dangerous or uninviting for the simple reason that it is unlikely for one to reach a definite conclusion or answer without further inquiry. The inability to completely close a discussion of an issue can be a seemingly frustrating notion, and so I my grade 9 self found myself wondering: What is the purpose of addressing the big questions that we so often do in Social Studies?
After spending more time investigating and reflecting upon my time in Social studies this year and last year, I have come to have a greater appreciation for what these ‘big questions’ have the ability to generate: more questions.
Take for example a discussion question from the past week:
“Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of others and not be responsible for that oppression? If so, how?”
The comment section for the post in which this question was included was full with student responses and inquiries, most of them webbing out from the initial question. So, instead of these ‘big questions’ acting as monolithic beasts, they are rather a small scratching at the surface of a larger equation, or the tip of the iceberg, if you will. And when we get our brains all wrapped up in these convoluted issues, we can often find ourselves channeling the ‘gah’, which more than anything, is probably a good indication that we are beginning to tackle the heart of the matter itself. These ‘gah moments’ are evidence that we are testing the flexibility of our thoughts and our thinking, which is an integral component in coming to terms with some of issues that surround humanity and civilization. As Social Studies continues, I believe that I can expect more feelings of frustration, but intend to use these moments for spring-boarding to other learning and discussions. Whether that means relating a discussion to current news stories or conversations, I look forward to tackling the ‘gah’ for the remainder of the year.