What is Social Studies?, pp. 6 of 11

A second and intersecting continuum would put child-development on one end and the subject-centered approach on the other. Thus, at one end is the goal of personal development in which children are helped to develop their personal competencies and interests within a social context.   This  is  often  labeled as the  child-

centered orientation.  At the other end, is the mastery of the content and skills of the disciplines which contribute to social studies. This can be labeled as the subject-centered orientation. By gaining mastery of these bodies of knowledge and forms of inquiry, young people are prepared to make sense of and contribute to a complex and changing world.  Once again, these are not mutually exclusive options; most teachers strive to make content meaningful to the lives of their students.  Where on the continuum in Figure 2 would you, ideally, place your ideas about the purposes of 

These two intersecting continua create a matrix which is intended to help you think about your goals for social studies at this time.  Look at the matrix in Figure 3 below and decide which quadrant your thinking falls in.  Are your beliefs about what the goals of social studies ought to be (ideally) consistent with your ideas about what you think these goals are as social studies is implemented in the schools?  If there is a difference, how might you, as a teacher, bring the ideal and your perception of the real into greater alignment?

To sum up, an important goal of social studies is to help young people be effective members of the diverse groups to which they belong, as well as to interact effectively across group borders.  What it means to be an effective citizen in a democratic society in a globally connected world is a subject of a good deal of academic writing.  Clarifying for yourself what you believe will help you in your role as a social studies teacher.  Having a big picture of where you want your learners to go and why will help you in the day-to-day decisions every teacher constantly makes when implementing the formal curriculum he or she has been given.  You will notice that the perspectives presented above have some common elements.  Generally, social studies educators agree that we must help young people to become civil members of society and of the groups and institutions to which they belong.  We would generally agree that group members need to respect others, listen to diverse points of view and seek to contribute to the greater good.  However, we might disagree on the extent to which primary school students should be prepared to inquire into social issues.  We are likely to agree that as teachers we have a responsibility to facilitate the personal growth of young learners.  However, we might disagree on the extent to which personal development should be emphasized at the primary grades over the acquisition of the skills and knowledge of the disciplines. 

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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