Why Social Studies Matters in the Legacy of Dr. Borlaug
I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Borlaug, but his story is one for the ages. I mean, how many of us will ever be able to say that we helped save over a billion people? I don’t know when he first showed an interest in science and agriculture, but his life story points to an early understanding of something else- the importance of social studies. Although his biography never uses these words, his story is a profound example of why social studies matter.
As a young boy, Dr. Borlaug experienced different people working together to build a common identity as Iowans. His biography states “…food for all was more important than any ethnic or linguistic differences that might initially divide them. It was an insight that would remain with Borlaug throughout his life and would come to permeate his work.”
As Borlaug began work in rural Mexico through a research project being funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, this insight was even more important. Dr. Borlaug demonstrated a willingness to embrace the culture and language of Mexico and it was only then that many local farmers were willing to try his approach.
This theme continued throughout Dr. Borlaug’s life. When he brought the Green Revolution to South Asia, he had to first work to bring the leaders of India and Pakistan together. An understanding of the geo-political implications of this would have been paramount. This is a perfect example of the necessity for social studies. If Dr. Borlaug had attempted to bring the Green Revolution to India and Pakistan without first considering cultural geo-political implications, the result could have been disastrous.
The creation of the World Food Prize itself was a demonstration of the importance of recognizing global connections and learning from each other. The prize celebrates those who not only discover scientific advancements in agriculture, but those who use their understanding of principles of social studies to put those advancements into action.
These social studies principles include the belief that we need the intellectual power to recognize societal problems, ask good questions, develop robust investigations into those questions, consider possible solutions, and take action to help those solutions become reality. These are ideals that Dr. Borlaug understood and put into practice in order to make the Green Revolution a reality in countries around the world. These are also principles the World Food Prize supports through initiatives like the Iowa Youth Institute. To apply to the institute, students are asked to write a research paper on a global issue related to hunger and food insecurity. Through this process, they must ask questions, consider possible solutions, and decide how to take action to solve the problem. This is social studies.
Iowa and many other states have recently adopted social studies standards based off the C3 (College, Career, and Civic Life) Framework. This framework was published by the National Council for the Social Studies in 2013. It promotes these social studies principles and creates a new vision for social studies--a vision that is different from what many people might remember from their own school experiences. Social studies often gets left out. For some, it’s because of negative experiences with social studies as a student. For others, it doesn’t seem “real world” enough. There may be a multitude of reasons this happens, but I would argue it is an area we most need to embrace to develop solutions for our future. It is my hope that as we are working toward the goal of feeding the world, we keep in mind the importance of social studies in making this goal a reality.