What is Social Studies?, pp. 9 of 11


In all societies, schools not only teach knowledge and skills, but values and attitudes as well.  What are values and attitudes?  Values refer to ideas about the worth of something.  Values guide our choices about what is right or preferred.  They help us define what is desirable and important.  For example, social harmony is an important value in many societies. Social harmony allows diverse groups to live together and to learn from one another.  Harmony among groups contributes to social stability.  It can also contribute to a social dynamic in which many views are heard and considered, enabling a society to develop and change as times demand. Attitudes, or dispositions, are closely related to values. Dispositions define our inclinations to behave in certain ways.  If we truly value honesty, for example, we will be inclined to behave honestly.  Dispositions come to define a person’s character and reflect the values which actually guide behavior.  Including values and dispositions in the educational system is part of the socialization function of education; that is, schools are designed to enable people to develop as functioning members of their society.  Imagine a society in which most people are not virtuous.  In such a world, no law or police action could really protect individuals.  The ability to live together in groups depends upon the core values and dispositions of the group members.

While different groups may hold differing values, certain core values must be in place to hold a society together, especially a society made up of diverse groups.  Certain values and dispositions can be thought of as “civic values” because they provide the glue that holds a group, a society, together.  In Singapore, as elsewhere, this includes developing in the young a sense of belonging to and a love of one’s country and of the people who make up that nation.   It includes individual responsibility to fulfill one’s obligations to the group.  It also includes civility since a civil society depends upon people treating each other with respect and courtesy.  Civility also means a willingness to listen to others and to try to understand and value diverse viewpoints.  Civic competence means recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  It means recognizing that there is something referred to as the public good which is more than a collection of individual self-interests.  It is about understanding that we are all members of communities.  For those communities to succeed, sometimes self-interest must be put aside to consider what is good for the group.

All groups and societies require that their members behave in individually responsible ways.  But in democratic societies, we ask citizens to be responsible and more.  In democratic societies, citizens are faced with choices.  Often, such choices involve whether or not to support particular people or the policies they advocate.  Sometimes those choices are difficult; for example, when two or more important values come into conflict.  Should we support economic development when it conflicts with environmental conservation? Should we support development of new highways to solve traffic woes but at the expense of destroying the environment? At a more personal level, should we report (tell the truth) on a friend who has broken an important school rule? Should we lie about our age in order to save money on a movie ticket?  Should we lie to our friend if we know the truth will hurt? Helping young learners examine the values and value dilemmas that underlie personal and public decision-making can go a long way toward helping them be informed citizens who are able to think critically and thoughtfully about the many policy issues that impact the public. Figure 6 provides a teaching idea for developing values in the primary social studies classroom.

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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