What is Social Studies?, pp. 5 of 11

Other writers have identified similar ways of categorizing thinking about the goals of social studies.  Another example is the work of Irving Morrisett (1977), who also wrote in the mid-20th century.  Morrisett described five traditions:

  • Transmission of culture and history
  • Social science processes and subject matter
  • Reflective or critical thinking and inquiry
  • The study of social and political controversies with the aim of promoting social activism
  • Personal development

You will notice the overlap with the three traditions laid out by Barr, Barth and Shermis.  A major difference is the addition of a perspective which more explicitly focuses on promoting social activism.  This perspective is similar to that which stresses the development of critical and reflective thinking skills; in addition, it makes the application of critical thinking to social issues clear and explicit.  Another difference between the Morrisett orientations and Barr, Barth and Shermis is the addition of a perspective which focuses on social studies for personal development.  This orientation focuses on the goal of helping learners develop their individual capacities to the fullest.  Students would be encouraged, under the teacher’s guidance, to pursue their interests and questions within the contexts of the social studies curriculum.  The teacher would serve as a guide to discovering the knowledge and developing the skills needed to become thoughtful, educated members of society.

These and other perspectives are useful in helping us think about the values and goals we hold regarding the teaching and learning of social studies.  But, in fact, most educators are somewhat eclectic and are probably influenced by most or all of these perspectives.  Clark and Case (1997) suggest that it is useful to think about your own beliefs in terms of a set of intersecting continua. On one continuum, we would place the citizenship transmission orientation at one end and social change and reform at the other.  Rather than see these as two opposing visions, each of us could place ourselves somewhere on the continuum between the two.  You are likely to agree that good citizens are committed to the groups, and the society, to which they belong.  We usually identify good citizens as those who are considerate of others and who seek to contribute to the well-being of all the members of the society.  Many of us would agree that the effective citizen is committed to the goals and ideals of society.  At the same time, to what extent would you agree that good citizens in democratic societies are those who seek to improve society and to work toward fairness and equity for all the members of society?  To what extent do you believe citizens should be willing and able to raise thoughtful and informed criticisms with an eye to how life can be improved for all the society’s members?  Where are you on the continuum in Figure 1 below?

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!