“We don’t need a lot more anthropologists in the state. It’s a great degree if people want to get it, but we don’t need them here. I want to spend our dollars giving people science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. That’s what our kids need to focus all their time and attention on, those types of degrees, so when they get out of school, they can get a job." Florida Governor Rick Scott, 2011

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STEM education initiatives, which promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, are increasingly having the effect of marginalizing the social studies and delegitimizing the social sciences as sciences at all. Instead of occupying a crucial position in public school and college level curriculum, the social studies are being reduced in some places to a support position at most, and in other places, public policy makers are outright discouraging the study of social sciences. The repercussions of such attitudes are not yet realized, and only begin with threatening the demand for social studies educators.
According to a study conducted in two STEM education high schools by Brad M. Maguth, there are two central conflicts occurring between STEM education initiatives and the social studies; “confusion and ignorance” regarding the importance the social studies and a perception held by teachers and administrators that the social studies are the most expendable content areas in the face of necessary budget cuts (Maguth, 79). While most teachers in this study indicated that STEM environments, because of their inherently integrative approach to education, offer great opportunities for social studies learning and many even acknowledged that social studies learning was necessary to build critical thinking ability, a vital component to the decision making processes involved in scientific endeavors, the conflicts identified by Maguth still subject the social studies to a degree of marginalization (Maguth, 74-76). Whether on a microcosmic level, where STEM content teachers suggest that the social studies are “not a real subject,” or on a macrocosmic level, where these individually held sentiments infiltrate and influence public administration policy makers (Maguth, 79).
The marginalization of the so-called “soft sciences” or social studies is also occurring on college campuses because of STEM initiatives. On one college campus in particular, the general education curriculum for undergraduates has been modified to exclude a social science requirement previously held; according to Sally T. Hillsman, the executive officer for the American Sociological Association’s publication “Footnotes,” this change in curriculum represents a larger effort to delegitimize the social sciences as sciences at all (Hilllsman 2013). Additionally, government efforts to salvage the national budget have taken form as severe austerity cuts to studies like Political Science at the National Science Foundation in a bill that passed in June 2012 (Hillsman 2013). Policies like this narrow the definition of science severely, and make it clear that the social sciences do not belong in STEM, despite their long held position as the “soft sciences” or even “super-sciences” (Hillsman 2013).
Teachers in Maguth’s study perceived and identified the social studies as the “glue” that binds the STEM content areas; without the citizenship, critical thinking, and moral awareness building facilitated by the social studies curriculum, scientists would lack fundamental skills to make the best possible decisions regarding the use of new technologies (Maguth, 84). But lack of morale, perceived expendability, and delegitimization of the social studies continues to impact the state of social studies education in P-12 and on college campuses.


The delegitimization of the social sciences and social studies is both a trend and an issue. The greater issue at play is the long held conflict concerning the nature of social science and its place under the umbrella of science. The two smaller trends at work are the yet realized value of the social studies to engender civic efficacy and morality which should be foundational to STEM education and this larger effort by the state to encourage students to pursue particular degree programs in the interest of the state rather than in the student's interest.

Defining Science: Can we reasonably say that the social sciences have a place in the STEM acronym?

What is science?

According to the Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology, science is:
"1. the systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts. 2. the organized body of knowledge that is derived from such observations and that can be verified or tested by further investigation. 3. any specific branch of this general body of knowledge, such as biology, physics, geology, or astronomy."
But according to the Multicultural History of Science page put out by Vanderbilt University, science is "more than the gaining of knowledge. It is the systematic and organized inquiry into the natural world and its phenomena. Science is about gaining a deeper and often useful understanding of the world."
And according to Robert H. Dott, Jr. and Henry L. Batten, authors of "Evolution of Earth," science "consists simply of the formulation and testing of hypotheses based on observational evidence; experiments are important where applicable, but their function is merely to simplify observation by imposing controlled conditions."

What is Social Science?

According to a "Fact Sheet" published by the American Academy Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences, the social sciences are "the branches of study that deal with humans in their social relations, including economics, anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology.” These sciences employ the scientific method, systematic methodology, inquiry, and the formulation of theories and laws. Additionally, the social sciences are acknowledged as being integral to "preparation to participate effectively in civic life, general preparation for entry into the work force, and teaching and performing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics" (American Academy Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences).
Despite a budget cut to the political science program at the National Science Foundation, denounced as a “meritless program” by U.S. Representative Jeff Flake, the social sciences are not the “poor cousins” of the hard sciences (Ziyad Mirar). This move represents a long held suspicion of the social sciences as unreliable musings on the state of society without the hard and fast controls that can be found in a laboratory. But, social sciences actually examine the social world the same way a natural scientist might conduct an experiment on lab rats; there is great emphasis on the scientific method, empirical data, hypothesis, and replicable experimentation. However, the “problem domains” of the social sciences are different that those of the natural sciences. A study of cultural attitudes toward poverty involves many moving parts: social cohesion, family structure, and the unknowable contents of an individual’s brain (Ziyad Mirar). Humans are much more complex than plants, so it is only natural that biochemists making predictions about plant growth under certain conditions will likely be more reliable and more accurate than any prediction made by a social scientist.
Does this lack of tangible reliability truly discount the social sciences as sciences at all?
And if we cannot consider the social sciences as capable of predicting trends or social phenomena, how can we justify their use in public policy making, remembering that statisticians are firmly within the realm of social science? Just last year, social statistics were used by President Obama to justify the use of standardized tests to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher (Gary Gutting).

Internal Strife:

Another issue with defining the social sciences as sciences has to do with an internal schism of scholars in this field- the so-called “hardies” and the “softies” (Josh Horgan). The “hardies” embrace the tenants of evolutionary theory, genetics, and biological theories, and they firmly believe that this integration of these will garner them the status held by the more precise, empirically bound natural scientists (Horgan). The “softies” on the other hand acknowledge that there is a scientific process involved in their research, but recognize an inextricable debt to the contributions of philosophy, the humanities, and history and identify very little with molecular biologists (Horgan). This schism represents a greater problem. That despite the advancements made by biology, such as mapping the human genome, social scientists will never be able to fully predict the future actions of a study group, because unlike inert objects under a microscope, human subjects possess the unique quality of being able to respond to the scientific discussions produced about them (Horgan). Humans can absorb and assimilate knowledge through media exposure; this assimilation can even have transformative power within social systems (Horgan). This means that the subject matter under study is under constant metamorphosis, in part because social scientists are studying it!

Rather than competition, interrelationship:

Social science, therefore, does not stand apart from science, but rather shares many of its characteristics. Additionally, the social sciences benefit the hard sciences by "helping to develop policies in line with cultural practices and beliefs" according to University of Florida anthropology professor, Susan deFrance (Susan deFrance).

Social Science as the Glue for STEM:

STEM's driving mission is to encourage students to pursue degrees that will assist them in securing successful careers and to keep the United States on the cutting edge of scientific advance. According to the STEM Education Coalition, STEM is vital "in U.S. competitiveness and our nation’s future economic prosperity." Science has the capacity to solve a myriad of human social ills, diseases, and other problems, but without the inherent capacity of social science, especially history, to foster "civic efficacy," or the skills required to participate effectively in social situations, we make decisions without fully evaluating their consequences (National Council for the Social Studies). This is to say that without learning from the mistakes of the past, decisions regarding the use of certain scientific advancements are made in ignorance. For instance, we have the capability to build nuclear weapons that can obliterate entire swaths of land and the peoples inhabiting them, but should we? If we develop the capability to clone a human being, should we? According to the NCSS, the social studies or sciences are singularly capable of teaching students to be democratic citizens who are "informed and thoughtful," morally aware, and critically evaluative (National Council for the Social Studies). Additionally, the social studies teach students to view problems from multiple perspectives, employ empathy, and exhibit "fair-mindedness" (National Council for the Social Studies). Students who have been exposed to a rigorous, active, and engaging social studies curriculum will be able to make sound decisions. In this way, social studies and social science directly support STEM initiatives and should not face reduction in importance.

Pushing Students to Pursue Passionless Degrees:

STEM education is an initiative that, last year, commanded $ 3 billion dollars in federal funding, but according to Colin Macilwain in his editorial, “Driving students into science is a fool’s errand”, the massive dumping of monies into what, for him, amounts to a scheme to “lure” young people in government sanctioned fields, represents bad public policy (Macilwain). Not only will these initiatives flood the labor market with scientists, which will subsequently impact their future wages and earnings, but Macilwain also worries that the level of content expertise and field enthusiasm will be greatly affected. When coupled with the marginalization within schools faced by the social studies, the result is a perversion of the old parental maxim of “Do what you love.” Students will feel pressured to pick fields for reasons other than passion, and that is not the stuff of effective workers (Macilwain).

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Annotated Bibliography:

"Mission." STEM Education Coalition. http://www.stemedcoalition.org/about-us/objectives/ This website provides definitions of STEM and its various missions.

"Defining the Humanities and the Social Sciences." 2011. American Academy Commission on the Humanities and the Social Sciences. http://www.humanitiescommission.org/AboutHumanitiesSocialSciences/FactSheet.aspx This fact sheet offers a widely accepted definition of social sciences and situates them as integral for STEM education.
"Is 'Social Science' an Oxymoron? Will that Ever Change?" 2013. Josh Horgan. In "Scientific American."
http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2013/04/04/is-social-science-an-oxymoron-will-that-ever-change/ This editorial offers one perspective on the conflict between the "hardies" and the "softies."
"How Reliable are the Social Sciences?" 2012. Gary Gutting. In "The New York Times."
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/17/how-reliable-are-the-social-sciences/ This editorial offers insight as to the reliability of the social sciences.
"A Response to Recent Attacks on Social Science." 2012. Ziyad Marar. In "Social Science Space."
http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2012/05/a-call-to-arms-what-do-the-social-sciences-have-to-offer/ This opinion piece offers a rebuttal to public discourse that has recently been questioning the legitimacy of the social sciences.
"Sociology IS a STEM Discipline." 2013. Sally T. Hillsman. In "Footnotes: A Publication of the American Sociological Association."
http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/feb13/vp_0213.html This editorial defends sociology as a STEM discipline.
"Driving Students into Science is a Fool's Errand." 2013. Colin Macilwain. In "Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science."
http://www.nature.com/news/driving-students-into-science-is-a-fool-s-errand-1.12981 This editorial critically evaluates the motives of STEM and its potential outcomes.
"In Defense of the Social Studies: Social Studies Programs in STEM Education." 2012. Brad M. Maguth. In "Social Studies Research and Practice."http://www.socstrpr.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/MS06393-5.pdf This study offers prime insight into the state of the Social Studies at STEM schools, examines teacher and administrative attitudes, and addresses many of the important aspects of social studies curriculum.
"A Vision of Powerful Teaching and Learning in the Social Studies: Building Social Understanding and Civic Efficacy." 2008. http://www.socialstudies.org/positions/powerful
The NCSS describes its mission to preserve social studies curriculum and explores the concept of civic efficacy.
"Florida Governor: Anthropology Not Needed Here." 2011. Neuroanthropology: Understanding the Encultured Brain and Body.
http://blogs.plos.org/neuroanthropology/2011/10/11/florida-governor-anthropology-not-needed-here/ This blog offers professional responses to the criticisms waged by Rick Scott against the necessity of anthropology.