Education for Active Citizenship (page 2)
A general goal for school curriculum should be facilitating students’ development of an awareness, appreciation, and understanding of key social studies concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity (National Council for the Social Studies, 1994b; National Research Council, 1996). Citizenship means active participation in community and national decision making (Barr, Barth, & Shermis, 1977; Goodman & Adler, 1985).
Being an active, participatory citizen means that students ask questions, decide on answers to questions based on related information, and act to bring about changes in their everyday social world. This process of awareness, appreciation, and understanding of the social world is learned fully only through social studies. As our technological society continues to change, it creates many concerns that require decision making from citizens. Making thoughtful decisions requires citizens to have content knowledge in many areas and to know how to use and evaluate the evidence their knowledge gives them. Yet many students seem turned off by social studies when they enter middle school. This is a serious problem for a complex democratic society in which citizens are expected to make informed decisions.
Although agreeing with the general goal of citizenship education in social studies, individual educators place a greater emphasis on any one of the following six viewpoints:
- Teaching history and geography
- Understanding social science
- Facilitating cultural transmission
- Supporting personal development
- Developing reflective thinking skills
- Encouraging rational problem solving, decision making, and social action
Each of these supports citizenship education as a general goal in social studies.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 identified three core subjects to be taught in K–12 that contribute to developing an understanding of citizenship in all students: civics and government, history, and geography. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests students’ knowledge of these three core subjects nationwide. States also test students’ achievement in these areas with tests they select to track students’ progress toward understanding citizenship knowledge and skills.
Social studies has been called “the great connection” by Goodman and Adler (1985). It is the core to which all parts of the elementary and middle school curriculum can be tied. Social studies can integrate mathematics, science, art, music, physical education, health, reading, language arts, and all the other content areas. Such integration is important because the real world in which citizens live and work integrates all areas. Social studies is an interdisciplinary approach that relies heavily on the content of social science and history to achieve its goal of preparing people to be active citizens of a democracy.
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