Learning about Issues through Discussion in the Primary Social Studies Classroom: A Shared Inquiry Approach, pp. 2 of 16

The issues that children encounter in the daily newspapers, television programmes, internet and social media can include environmental pollution, climate change, terrorism, racism, migration, ageism and poverty. They hear about issues in adults’ conversations and even discuss them with their peers. They ask questions about issues because their interest is piqued and they care about them. Their questions, however, may not always be answered by adults. Many issues are complex and there are no easy and immediate answers to their resolution. Parents may be reluctant to allow their children to confront serious issues and some elementary teachers even avoid introducing controversial issues in their classrooms (Gross, 1989) as they may deem the issues unsuitable for learners or there is simply no time for discussion. Teachers may think that they lack the necessary knowledge and competency to handle children’s queries confidently. Yet research stresses the need for teachers to construct concrete, authentic and relevant learning activities for their learners (NAEYC, 1989). Issues provide opportunities for teachers to develop authentic and relevant learning experiences for their students. And children will have direct experiences with many issues that can be leveraged for learning in social studies: “To pretend that children’s world is bland is false when it is filled with controversies, conflicts and aggression” (Joyce, 1970, p 255).

Social studies is an apt platform for introducing issues to children as the subject is essentially for citizenship education, that is, its primary purpose is to prepare youths so that they possess the knowledge, values and skills needed for active citizenry (Barr, Barth & Shermis, 1977; Engle & Ochoa, 1988; Martorella, Beal & Bolick, 2005; Shaver, 1997; Stanley, 1985). An active citizenry is one that works in concert with the community and government to solve societal problems and issues by taking initiative and being involved to bring about constructive change. It is not one whereby citizens are indifferent or watch others’ actions passively on the sideline and doing nothing about the situation.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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