Goals of the Social Studies (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Goals and objectives should be the first and most important concerns of any teacher, especially any social studies teacher. They complement one another. Goals are distant, unmeasurable, and even unattainable. They give direction to our efforts and, if we are goal oriented and goal driven, we constantly work toward them, yet never reach a point when they are achieved. How can one reach the goal of becoming an effective problem solver, for example, or the even broader goal of being a good citizen? The essence of goals is that they describe the person we are constantly in the process of becoming (Moore, 1989).

Objectives, on the other hand, are short term, attainable, often measurable, and very specific. We can know when we achieve them, so they become for us milestones and markers of our progress. Goals determine the directions we want to go, but the accomplishment of objectives lets us know that we are getting there.

In education, we generally begin planning by defining our goals. Once goals are set, we try to describe the specific teaching and learning outcomes for short periods of instruction that will move students toward the goals. Goals without objectives remain as only dreams. Objectives without relationship to goals are purposeless. Objectives for the social studies tend to be decided on the basis of the specific content being taught and the group to which it is being taught.  The broadest goals for the field have been centrally determined and defined in the United States by various groups, given authority by still larger organizations. Regardless of the group, throughout this century social studies has invariably been linked to goals of citizenship education (Jarolimek 1990). The frameworks developed in the reports of the various commissions, task forces, and committees have served as models for textbook curricula and for those developed for state and local school districts.

Among the most recent of these reports, three will probably influence the direction of elementary school social studies in the 1990s and on into the twenty-first century. These are the National Council for the Social Studies Task Force on Scope and Sequence (1984), the National Council for the Social Studies Task Force on Early Childhood/Elementary Social Studies (1989), and the Curriculum Task Force of the National Commission on the Social Studies in the School (1989).

The introductory, summarizing statement of the goals section of the report of the NCSS Task Force on Scope and Sequence set a problem-solving focus for the social studies and emphasized thinking skills. The Task Force said, "Social studies programs have a responsibility to prepare young people to identify, understand, and work to solve problems that face our increasingly diverse nation and interdependent world" (NCSS Task Force, 1984, 25l). The report went on to say that the social studies derive goals from the nature of citizenship and then organizes those goals into the broad categories of knowledge, democratic values, and beliefs and skills.

The NCSS Task Force on Early Childhood/Elementary Social Studies (1989) echoed much of the same tone and similar organization in its report. The goals focused on cooperative problem solving, claiming that basic skills in reading, writing, and computing were necessary but not sufficient if children are to survive in today's world. Critical thinking and the development of positive attitudes toward self and others were given priority in this report.

The Task Force of the National Commission on the Social Studies was funded by the Carnegie Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Geographic Society. It enjoyed the sponsorship of the National Council for the Social Studies and the American Historical Association. Over two years in preparation, the Task Force's report, titled Charting a Course: Social Studies for the 21st Century (1989), formulated the following goals that the social studies curriculum should enable students to develop:

  1. Civic responsibility and active civic participation
  2. Perspectives on their own life experiences so they see themselves as part of the larger human adventure in time and place
  3. A critical understanding of the history, geography, economic, political, and social institutions, traditions, and values of the United States as expressed in both their unity and diversity
  4. An understanding of other peoples and of the unity and diversity of world history, geography institutions, traditions, and values
  5. Critical attitudes and analytical perspectives appropriate to analysis of the human condition
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