What is Social Studies?, pp. 10 of 11

Why Study Social Studies?

So why should primary school learners spend time learning social studies?  They study social studies to gain the wisdom and understanding necessary to function as citizens of their communities, their nation and the world.  They learn about historical events in order to understand the ways in which the past has shaped the present.  They are introduced to geographical concepts to better understand the ways in which our environment shapes and is shaped by human behavior.  In primary social studies, learners are also introduced to basic concepts from the fields of economics, government, sociology and psychology so that they will begin to learn about the ways in which people and policies are formed and interact.  Social studies matters because we are social beings who live together in communities.  Each of us is a member of many groups – families, schools, religious groups, the nation and others.  Being active, thoughtful members of these groups requires particular skills, understanding and dispositions. As social studies teachers, we will help young learners develop as effective citizens in diverse groups.


It is important for teachers to understand the goals and purposes of social studies. More importantly, they need to believe that these goals and purposes are of consequence enough for them to take the teaching of this subject seriously. Every society engages in educating their young in the norms and values of that society. Social studies is a subject through which citizenship education is carried out. Citizenship education is contentious and there are ongoing debates about what form this citizenship education should take. In a democratic society, it is argued that we should not be simply educating citizens to obey the law, show kindness and consideration to others and generally contribute to maintaining social cohesion. There is also a need to educate for civic competence, for citizens to be able and willing to be concerned with public affairs, to raise questions and engage in debate, deliberations and decision making to make the society a more inclusive, just and equitable one.

There are a number of orientations towards citizenship education that social studies teachers may take. These include social transmission, social reform, child-centred personal development or subject-centred orientation. It is important for social studies teachers to reflect on their own beliefs and orientations towards the subject so as to plan and implement lessons that will achieve the goals of citizenship education in a democratic society.

This paper has also discussed the knowledge, skills and values that we think should be taught in social studies. This selection of knowledge, skills and values that social studies should teach is based on the view that the purpose of social studies is to develop and equip our young to become citizens who will be concerned about and able to actively participate in making “informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.” (NCSS, 2010). 

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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