What is Social Studies?, pp. 8 of 11


At the heart of the purpose of social studies as envisioned by NCSS is the idea of    making    informed    and    reasoned decisions.  Of course, informed decision-making involves gaining knowledge.  But it requires much more as well.  Learners must be helped to develop the skills of finding, organizing and using information.  Importantly, they must also be helped to interpret, evaluate and synthesize information.  After all, we live in an information rich world.  People who cannot distinguish reliable sources from those which are unreliable are likely to believe anything they read or hear – and that is not a characteristic of an “informed citizen”.  Consider the following steps for effective decision making (NCSS, 2010) and notice how much more is involved than simply gathering information:

  • Identify a situation in which a decision is required
  • Secure factual information relevant to the decision
  • Identify alternative courses of action and predict the consequences of each
  • Define criteria to be met for one of the alternatives to emerge as the best
  • Make decisions based on criteria and the data obtained
  • Take action to implement the decision
  • Examine and evaluate consequences

An example of skills development in a primary social studies classroom is shown in Figure 5 below.

Social studies can equip young learners with a variety of other skills that can contribute to educating effective citizens.  If social studies is to help learners work within and across groups, then it seems reasonable that in teaching social studies (as well as other subjects) we consider facilitating the development of such skills (excerpted from, NCSS, 2010, p 166) as:

  • How to adjust personal behavior to fit the dynamics of specific groups and situations;
  • Participate in developing rules and guidelines for group activities;
  • Assist in setting, working toward and accomplishing goals for a group;
  • Participate in persuading, compromising, debating and negotiating in the resolution of conflicts and differences;
  • Utilize diverse perspectives and skills to accomplish common goals;
  • Dialogue with others who have diverse perspectives;
  • Participate in communities through organizations working to address an array of cultural, social, political, and religious interests and beliefs;
  • Exhibit moral and civic virtues such as concern for the rights and welfare of others, social responsibility, tolerance and respect, and the belief in the capacity to make a difference.

Think about other skills identified as important in the Social Studies syllabus and ask yourself how the development of these skills will help learners in their personal growth and development and in their development as members (citizens) of the groups to which they belong.  How will developing particular skills help your students develop as “effective citizens”?

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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