What is Social Studies?, pp. 2 of 11

What is Social Studies?

References to the term “social studies” can be found as far back as the early twentieth century in the United States and the United Kingdom. For example, in the United States, a nation-wide set of curriculum recommendations released in 1916 included a reference to the teaching of social studies in order to better prepare young people as citizens in a democratic society (Martorella, 2001).  In the early twentieth century, the United States was experiencing massive social changes resulting from industrialization, urbanization and immigration.  Many, including educators, were concerned that such rapid changes would disrupt social stability.   They believed that learning such subjects as history and geography, separately and integrated under the term social studies, would help young people better understand that changing world and become citizens who could help shape their communities and nation for the better.

Thus the idea of social studies was born from recognition that people live together in social groups such as families, communities and nations, and that social living can be a challenge, especially in diverse societies.  Even family members sometimes have difficulty getting along.  As people engage in larger, more diverse and more distant groups, such as communities, nations, and the world, the challenges and difficulties become more complex.  Social studies was seen as a way to enable young people to interact in thoughtful and informed ways as members of social groups.  As you learn more about the big ideas, important skills and key values found in social studies, consider why these are significant to helping young people be thoughtful and informed participants in their social worlds.

Social studies came to be identified with enabling young people to be effective citizens in democratic societies.  It is important to remember that being a “citizen” is not simply about our membership in a nation state.  We are all members of many groups: families, friends, schools, communities and so forth.  When we participate as members of these groups, we are acting as “citizens” of those groups.  As social beings we must learn, not only how to get along with others, but how to understand others, to see from their point of view (even if we do not agree) and to develop empathy.  We must learn how we can help the group function effectively.  We must learn how to present and support our ideas and viewpoints, as well as how to listen and respond when others disagree.

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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