Table of Contents, Thinking Tools Resources Page Previous Section, Thinking Tools Next Section, Thinking Tools

Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

The Social Sciences as Taught and Practiced

Though the social professions have promised much, clearly the promise falls far short of the ideal. What is more, serious questions can be raised as to whether it is even appropriate to use the word "science" to characterize the status of the social professions. Typically, the social professions are highly "multilogical." Many divergent points of view and frames of reference compete within the social professions. Often it is possible to get contradictory judgments from different practitioners in the social fields.

On the instructional level, we are clearly far from delivering the benefits that have been promised by those who argue for that instruction. To put it one way, few persons learn, as a result of instruction in history, to think historically, or, as a result of instruction in the other social fields, to think sociologically, anthropologically, economically, or psychologically. Instruction is often designed so that persons are certified as professionally knowledgeable in the content of a course when they have done no more than successfully cram for a true/false or a multiple-choice exam.

It is not clear that the study of history, sociology, anthropology, economics, and psychology has led to a better world (that is, with less war, cruelty, human suffering, and injustice). Actually, our belief that we have been educated as a result of the instruction we have received may render us more self-deceived than we would be without that instruction. this might lead us to believe that we know more than we do within a discipline.

The social studies could, and should, make a significant contribution to a better world. Insights into historical, anthropological, and economic thinking are relevant to critical thinking. These professions, however, are rarely taught in such a way as to contribute to the development of critical thought. For example, though sociology as taught emphasizes that humans tend to behave in keeping with the mores and taboos of social groups, rarely are persons given assignments in which they must make explicit and critically assess the mores and taboos of any of the groups to which they belong. The result is that the persons usually leave sociology classes with little insight into the nature of their own social indoctrination. They do not seem to gain in autonomy as a result of instruction. The mores and taboos of their social groups and of the broader society rule them as much at the end of their instruction, as far as we can see, as they did at the beginning. Persons begin and end as consummate conformists in language, dress, values, and behavior. They have not, on the whole, begun to think historically, anthropologically, sociologically, or economically.

    Table of Contents, Thinking Tools Resources Page Previous Section, Thinking Tools Next Section, Thinking Tools