Social Studies Today (page 3)

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

Skills, Attitudes, and Knowledge

Using the recommendations of the NCSS (1998) and national history, geography, and civics standards, today’s social studies revolve around introducing children to the skills, attitudes, and knowledge required of citizens of a democracy.

Focus on Skills

Within the small democracy of the preschool or primary classroom, children begin to develop the social and participatory skills required of citizens in a democracy. They will be taught and gain the skills necessary to cooperate and share and begin to assume responsibility for themselves as the total group. The National Standards for Civics and Government (Center for Civic Education, 1994) state that students in school should learn to do the following:

  • Respect the rights of others.
  • Respect the privacy of others.
  • Promote the common good, clean up the environment, and care for the school.
  • Participate in voting and in developing class rules and constitutions.

Civics and government standards suggest that these skills are best developed by “providing students [with] opportunities to practice these skills and to observe and interact with those in their community who are adept in exercising them” (Center for Civic Education, 1994, p. xiii). Good citizenship is not just a matter of the observance of outward forms, transmitted from the old to the young, but also a matter of reasoned conviction, the end result of people’s thinking for themselves (Center for Civic Education, 1994).

Citizens of a democracy need to have the skills of thinking and inquiry. Those skills are promoted throughout the social studies curriculum. “Intellectual skills and civics are inseparable” (Center for Civic Education, 1994, p. xii), and being a citizen of a democracy means being “able to think critically” (p. xii). Wade (2003) suggests a civics curriculum focused on civic projects and aimed at developing concepts of a common good. In this way, young children are most likely able to develop the concepts key to citizenship in a democracy.

Involving children in study of their here-and-now world gives them the platform for posing questions and finding answers. As children study their world, they collect data, observe, survey, weigh, measure, compare, and contrast things in their here-and-now world. After considering the information collected, children reach conclusions. Through inquiry, they use an array of tools appropriate for study of their world. Teachers scaffold children’s use of tools and provide time and opportunity for children to reflect on and reconsider the results of their activity. Only as children make sense of their own world, whatever or wherever that world is, will they develop the thinking skills and knowledge of content necessary for productive citizenship.

Focus on Attitudes and Values

Children need to develop attitudes and values congruent with the democratic way of life if democracy is to continue. The attitudes and values of respect for each individual, freedom of speech, setting and following rules, learning to make choices, and participating in the democracy of the classroom are fostered through the social studies.

The NCSS (1998, p. 3) maintains that the focus of education is on how values are formed and how they influence human behavior rather than on building commitment to specific values. The values and attitudes of the fundamental rights to life, liberty, dignity, equality, and speech are best taught by helping students to weigh priorities in situations in which conflicts arise.

Focus on Standards and Knowledge

More than ever, children need knowledge and a basic understanding of the world in which they live. Without knowledge of history, geography, economics, current events, and global interrelationships, children will be ill-prepared to assume responsible citizenship in the future.

In the past, social studies content was limited in scope, trivial, and lacking in connection to major social education goals (Brophy & Alleman, 2002). Today, however, there is an awareness of the richness of concepts key to the social studies and how these concepts can be meaningfully introduced to very young children (Levstik, 2002).

National associations have identified social studies content that children are to learn during the primary grades. Geographers, historians, economists, civic educators, and social studies authorities have all identified what children should know and be able to do from kindergarten through grade four. Pre-kindergarten standards developed by CTB/McGraw-Hill (2002) and reviewed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York articulate what children 3 to 5 years of age should know and be able to do in the field of the social studies. Additionally, the NCSS identifies themes around which social studies teaching can be organized. Below are eight of those themes:

  • Culture. The study of culture—the art, language, history, and geography of different cultures—takes place across the total curriculum. To become a global citizen, children must recognize the universals of human cultures everywhere.
  • Time, continuity, and change. In the context of their lives, children come to understand themselves in terms of the passage of time and develop the skills of the historian.
  • People, places, and environments.Children learn to locate themselves in space, become familiar with landforms in their environment, and develop beginning understanding of the human-environment interaction.
  • Individual development and identity. Personal identity is shaped by one’s culture, by groups, and by institutional influences. How people learn, what they believe, and how people meet their basic needs in the context of culture are themes within this topic.
  • Individuals, groups, and institutions. Institutions such as schools, families, government agencies, and the courts play a role in people’s lives. Children can develop beginning concepts of the role of institutions in their lives.
  • Power, authority, and governance. Understanding how individual rights can be protected within the context of majority rule can be introduced to young children in the context of their classroom.
  • Production, distribution, and consumption. Because people have wants that often exceed the resources available to them, a variety of ways have evolved to answer questions such as “What is to be produced?” and “How is production to be organized?”
  • Science, technology, and society. This theme deals with questions such as “How can we cope with change?” and “How can we manage technology so that all benefit from it?”
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