What is Social Studies?, pp. 4 of 11

The first tradition described by Barr, Barth and Shermis was one they labeled social studies as citizenship transmission.  In this tradition, the purpose of social studies is to transmit the values, history and traditions of a society to the young. Children are prepared to contribute to the society as it is, and to see change as gradual and incremental.  In fact, all societies seek to socialize their young by teaching the beliefs and behaviors appropriate to the society and this tradition in social studies is consistent with this goal of socialization.  In this tradition, the content to be taught would focus on instilling pride, responsibility and respect.  Historic and current events which focus on positive elements of the society would be stressed. Basic literacy skills such as comprehension, reading maps and globes chronological arrangement, and defining important vocabulary would be taught.  Within this tradition, young people would not be encouraged to question authority, to examine values or to examine controversy.  A variety of teaching strategies might be used, but on the whole teacher-directed learning is likely to predominate.  This approach is often emphasized at the primary level with the argument that children must first be socialized to society before they can be encouraged to question it.

The second tradition they identified was social studies as a social science.  Within this tradition, young people are expected to learn the content and methods of history and the social sciences.  The goal of social studies is to equip young people with the knowledge and skills to identify and solve social problems.  The knowledge and methods of history and the social sciences are felt to best equip young people with both knowledge and skills for participating in a changing world. Content acquisition is emphasized as young people learn to look at the world as social scientists.  They learn the methods or processes used by social scientists to investigate problems and understand behavior.  While a variety of teaching methods would be used, there would be an emphasis on engaging learners in either teacher-directed or student - initiated inquiry.  You may think this approach would be more appropriate for older learners; however, many educators have found that presented well, even young children are capable of understanding the significant concepts from the disciplines and using the basic methods of investigation from history and the social sciences.

The third tradition is social studies as reflective inquiry. This tradition also focuses on inquiry and problem solving, but puts less emphasis on drawing on the formal knowledge and inquiry methods of the disciplines.  Within this tradition, the emphasis is on exploring issues in the social world which directly affect the students involved.  The goal is to help young people learn to play an active role in society as thinkers and decision-makers.  They are encouraged to examine the personal, social and political implications of issues so that they might learn to take supportable positions on issues, to speak out in support of what they believe, after investigation, is good for society, and to become informed voters.  This view of citizenship sees young people maturing into active citizens.  The content in this approach emerges as children investigate issues and seek information.  Children are taught the skills of inquiry, collaboration, and perspective taking as they learn to investigate social issues.  The teaching methods used would be predominantly learner centered.

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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