10 Reasons Why Social Studies Education is Critical in a 21st Century World
After the passage of No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on reading and mathematics, many states lessened the requirements for social studies in their state requirements. The lack of emphasis on social studies still exists today. In the elementary grades, teachers often gloss over social studies subjects in order to pay more attention to the “tested subjects”, while middle and high schools often treat social studies as a subject meant to help boost reading scores. There is a lack of focus on strengthening social studies and making it more interesting and meaningful to students. It is often taught through textbooks and superficial survey courses that provide limited knowledge and skills. While power brokers, politicians and even many educators extol STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning, they usually ignore social studies education.
Here are a dozen reasons why we need a revitalized, strong, coherent, and comprehensive K-12 social studies program:
1: Social studies provides students with a broad, critical, and relevant knowledge base that helps them better understand today’s complex world.
Knowledge of diverse communities, American heroes, American and world history, geography, political systems, economics, and important concepts from other social science disciplines are critical for understanding the place of each individual in the world in which we live, America’s place in the world, and the role of informed citizens in a democratic society.
2: Social studies helps students develop common understandings and positive values that hold our country together.
Students need to build common understandings and a common set of values that transcend geographic boundaries and create a concept of “America” as one nation. These include the ideals, principles and values tied to the American Revolution and found within the Constitution, the geography and demographics of America, why we fought the Civil War and World War II, slavery and the civil rights movement, the importance of immigration to America, Manifest Destiny, market economy principles, and other key ideas
3: Social studies teaches students how to be thoughtful and active citizens in a democratic society.
Students develop an understanding of current issues and events, and develop the context through which to analyze these issues and events and consider alternatives and solutions. Social studies is also how students learn to actively participate in American democratic institutions through field trips to the courts, learning how to register to vote, community service, and other means.
4: Social studies promotes the development of literacy and math skills, such as reading, writing, speaking, listening, numeracy, and data collection and analysis.
Students read fiction and non-fiction texts, learn important concepts and vocabulary, research and write reports, conduct surveys, interpret and use graphs, and in general develop and reinforce important literacy and mathematics skills.
5: By engaging in social studies inquiry, students learn how to be capable problem-solvers.
Through essential questions, discussions, persuasive essays and other means, students learn how to discuss, reflect on and solve problems such as those dealing with the environment, poverty, race, class, economics, and politics.
6: Social studies develops critical and creative thinking skills.
Students in social studies classes discern patterns, analyze and interpret maps, take apart arguments, invent solutions to problems, and learn how to think critically and creatively.
7: Social studies is a powerful vehicle for creating interdisciplinary, integrated school programs.
Many diverse subject area teachers can work together through interdisciplinary programs developed around social studies themes, such as community, environment and human interaction, conflict, change, and adaptation. History is integrated with literature, social studies topics are infused with science, and the arts help students understand historical events.
8: Social studies helps to educate future leaders.
As students learn about positive leadership in America and throughout the world, consider difficult issues throughout history and how they were solved, examine current issues and ways people try to solve them, and take part in civic activities, they build an understanding of leadership and what it takes to be a leader.
9: Social studies promotes self-understanding and the understanding of other peoples and cultures.
Social studies helps students understand their own backgrounds and values and the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Americans and those that live in other countries and at other times.
10: Social studies provides students with important practical information and skills that can be used in their everyday lives.
In social studies classes, students learn skills for financial literacy, career options, how to register and vote, and other equally important practical skills.
Given these crucial reasons for creating a strong K-12 social studies program, social studies should be given a preeminent place in the curriculum. If social studies is to fulfill the important goals outlined above, there must be a greater emphasis on building a strong, coherent K-12 social studies curriculum that uses multiple resources and powerful instructional strategies. This requires a very different perspective on the importance of social studies, as well as significant financial support and professional development at all levels.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator: social studies teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author and Understanding by Design trainer. He currently writes frequently about educational issues and volunteers his time in the Philadelphia School District. His many commentaries can be found on ASCD Edge and more of his thoughts and ideas can be found at his website: www.era3learning.org.