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Definitions of Social Studies (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 17, 2013

Social Studies Should Help Students Acquire Knowledge, Master the Processes of Learning, and Become Active Citizens

The knowledge children acquire as a part of social studies tends to be the highest priority for teachers, parents, and the children. The common perception is that this is what social studies is all about—knowing things like the location of the Rocky Mountains, the conditions aboard a slave ship, and the purpose of a mailbox. This is too limited a view because social studies must be a vehicle for children to become better communicators, thinkers, researchers, computer users, and artists. Finally, all three definitions state that the ultimate goal of social studies is active citizenship in our society, as our students use the knowledge they have acquired and the processes they have mastered to make communities, the nation, and the world better places. This is the position of the NCSS, that the “core mission of social studies education is to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and values that will enable them to become effective citizens” (NCSS Task Force on Revitalizing Citizenship Education, 2001, p. 319).

In the end, there probably will never be one universally accepted definition of social studies. This lack of consensus reflects fundamental disagreements on the primary purpose of social studies. Consider the following points of view on social studies teaching and learning, expressed throughout the last 100 years:

  • Social studies should promote the acceptance of cultural diversity (national survey of elementary and middle school teachers reported by Leming, Ellington, & Schug, 2006).
  • Social studies should focus on the major events and important individuals in American history and seek to transmit to young people the American concepts of liberty and equality (Leming, Ellington, & Porter-Magee, 2003).
  • Social studies should be issues centered, as students search for answers to problems and dilemmas confronted by people today and in the past (Evans, 1992).
  • Social studies should develop democratic citizens who are more than loyal and patriotic; good citizens are also critics of, and participants in, their government (Engle & Ochoa, 1988).
  • Social studies should focus on the big ideas of the social science disciplines, and the essential activity for children is problem solving (Fenton, 1967).
  • Social studies should be child centered and permit students to pursue topics of personal interest (Kilpatrick, 1918).

Perhaps a good way to conclude our discussion of the definition of social studies is through example.

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