Baylor School of Education graduate Dr. Neil Shanks, who will join the Baylor faculty in the fall, received the 2018 Larry Metcalf Exemplary Dissertation Award from the National Council for the Social Studies. The award recognizes outstanding research completed in pursuit of a doctoral degree.
Shanks graduated from Baylor University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Education and in 2014 with a Master of Science in Education. He then completed his doctorate in social studies education at the University of Texas.
Previously, Shanks taught social studies at Waco High School. “My dissertation grew out of my frustrations with the way economics was presented in the Texas social studies standards and wanting to find a way for economics to be more relevant and meaningful to students,” Shanks said. This study specifically dealt with pre-service teachers – students who are getting ready to become social studies teachers – and how they felt about economics in relation to their purpose for teaching social studies.
“One thing that’s really frustrating about economics is the way it’s spelled out in the TEKS – it’s not explicitly connected to the lives that students live. You kind of have to work to make it fit,” Shanks said. Throughout his research, Shanks aimed to bridge the gap between social studies in the textbook and social studies in reality.
One major issue that Shanks’ research tackled was the racial income gap. The standards generally discuss income under the assumption that the best workers always get the most money, he said.
“Kids know this isn’t true, because they have parents who work hard and aren’t making it,” Shanks said. “We either offer them something that is more relevant, or we ignore that and they check out.”
Currently, Shanks is a temporary lecturer in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at Baylor University. In the fall, he will join the Baylor faculty as Clinical Assistant Professor in Curriculum & Instruction. Shanks said he is thankful for the community that Baylor has provided and is happy to stay in Waco to continue his work in education and social studies research.
“The best part is to be involved with the School of Education, which gave me the foundation to become a teacher and future educator,” Shanks said. “It’s been really fulfilling to come back and be part of an institution that offered me so much.”
—Story and photo by Andi Risk
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