For many years, in the United States students have been plagued by average or low achievement levels in math and science proficiency (me included). Understandably, President Obama is attempting to reverse that trend with some education spending and programs aimed at rewarding entrance into these areas. But one thing doesn’t make sense to me: No one is talking about social studies. History and its social studies counterparts are just as critical as math and science, and I encourage the president to make sure our schools don’t forget to teach the branches of government alongside math and chemistry, by adding a social studies overhaul to his education agenda.

Two weeks ago, Obama took part in a town hall event that aired on MTV, and as I looked at the crowd of handpicked college students, I wondered how many of them were political science or history majors. As he took questions from the crowd, his undeviating answer to the issues of American education concerned me.

Obama explained that what made the United States the wealthiest and most successful country in the world was a commitment to education. “We started the public school system early,” Obama said, as he pointed in particular to the era when the G.I. Bill after World War II produced an influx of engineers and scientists.

“What has happened in a generation, is that our lead has slipped,” Obama said. “We rank 21st when it comes to math education. We rank 25th in science. We used to be No. 1 in the proportion of college graduates. We now rank ninth. And at an age where knowledge, skills, are the determinant of how successful we’re going to be, unless we reverse that we’re going to keep slipping behind economically to a lot of other countries,” he concluded.

I’m not advocating for a new G.I. Bill, but why do the president and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan so narrowly focus on math and science? They just announced both an “Educate to Innovate” science-boosting program and a pledge to hire more teachers of these subjects. Why do history and social studies get demoted to second-class disciplines?

Surely the people at the town hall and even the president know that rankings in social studies and, by association, civic participation, are lower than those in other countries, just like math and science. I blame “Schoolhouse Rock” and that one boring history teacher we’ve all had, but undeniably, building a rocket will always be cooler than reading about the founding fathers. It’s a shame, because social studies produces some of our best thinkers.

The most reliable source for education rankings is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But these rankings don’t measure social studies education. The National Assessment of Educational Progress at least tracks competency in history, but its findings do not offer much solace. The percentage of students who could correctly answer basic social studies questions fails to exceed 63 percent, and less than 15 percent of the sample could identify things like the cause of the Korean War. These are high school seniors, and it’s alarming to think how they’ll do in a college class when it counts.

There are ways to fix the lack of interest and apathy over social studies. Enlist engaging organizations like The History Channel or The Smithsonian to jumpstart a push to educate kids about their country. Award big chunks of money to schools that have students creating proposals about how to fix the political system or studying the effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, the president should be out there beating the drum for more social studies teachers, because they deserve some of the $250 million from his math and science initiative.

I’m a firm believer that if our education system gets left in the dust by competitors around the world, so will the country as a whole. A nation that doesn’t use one of its greatest resources – its people – is doomed to lose that resource, and when that happens, we won’t even have the best students available to write our own obituary as an economic, cultural and intellectual power. In January, Obama said, “The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” Here’s hoping fewer kids are snoozing in their high school government class even as you read this piece.

Kevin Bunkley is a graduate student.

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