Agency is a key concept in social studies, but students often misunderstand or struggle with the term. A simple definition for agency is “the amount of control an individual has over decisions or actions in life.” While we often assume we have lots of agency, social structures such as religion, family, laws, the economy, or social class work to limit the power of individuals. It may be helpful to illustrate the concepts of agency and social structure on opposite ends of a continuum. Follow up with scenarios or examples to demonstrating how one’s power can be difficult to categorize.
When I ask students to read in my social studies classes, I always assign a customized reading guide created especially for the assigned text. The reading assignments may be textbook chapters, primary source texts, news articles, or even selections of relevant fiction. Many “generic” reading guides are available, but taking extra time to create a reading customized to a text as well as the larger lesson and unit objectives results in higher-level learning.
“The camera doesn’t lie” is often assumed to be true about historical photographs, even though we know that maxim is certainly not true in the twenty-first century. This phrase first began to be used in the late nineteenth century when new technology allowed photographs to be printed in books, magazines, and newspapers.
Adam Smith and his famous book The Wealth of Nations often make lists of things to know about the eighteenth century in economics and history classes. How can teachers explain his impact instead of making Smith just another factoid to memorize? Adam Smith was witness to and influenced by three major movements: the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. Associate Smith’s economic thought with these larger events to make him memorable.
Capitalism, socialism, and communism are three key concepts in social studies, with complex definitions and complicated histories. Explaining these concepts in the classroom is muddled even more by how these words are used in modern media. The meaning is often obscured by political alliances and deliberate attempts to mislead.
Social studies teachers hold the key to our future.
Before the computer revolution, cut and paste required scissors and glue. This method originally required scissors to clip information from a newspaper or magazine and glue so the clipping could be attached to paper and saved, shared, or reprinted. In the twenty-first century, the phrase cut and paste has evolved to describe digital methods of replicating information. As students depend more and more on digital information in the classroom, what are the implications of modern cutting and pasting?
In our modern world, different groups are seeking to make changes in their society. Protests, violent and nonviolent, come in many forms. The story of England’s seventeenth-century Diggers is a contrast to many historical uprisings because it was peaceful and its participants hoped to reform the economy of their nation and create an agrarian utopia.
Collective memory, or social memory, is how a group of people remember and forget the past. Individuals and societies base self-understanding and decision-making on past experiences. However, how accurately do we really remember? What do we choose to forget? What is the impact of false or incorrect memories?