Social studies encompasses several dynamics that affect daily student learning. Through the variety of social studies disciplines, students are taught how to become effectual change agents for the betterment of our society through learning complex histories, civic standards, and geographic understanding of the world around them.
The skills and content taught in science and social studies are often relegated to a secondary importance when compared to literacy and math. We can see this in how districts allocate funding and what states decide to test. However, while social studies skills are often taken for granted, the current political climate in the United States demands that we revisit, analyze, and update the skills that students will need not only to be successful in their future workplace but most importantly to be able to contribute to a healthy social dialogue as active citizens. We need to be able to have civil conversations about how we want to live together as a nation, what values we want to give priority to, and how we understand our past in order to promote a robust and healthy national future.
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.
American democracy began as an experiment. Historically, nations around the world were empires founded on a hierarchy of monarchs or dictatorship. The founding fathers implemented the US Constitution to ensure that the new nation would be different and represent the interests of all individuals rather than aristocrats—hence the creation of our democratic two-party system of government and the electoral college voting system that elects the presiding members of the executive branch.
America was built on democracy, a set of rules that governs the people in a state or country. Most elementary classrooms can follow this same doctrine by establishing rules and polices that guide and govern activities in that classroom.
Determining whether voting is a right or a privilege has been a battleground for states to control who can cast a ballot in elections. Technically, states regulate eligible voters, but, through the course of history, the US federal government has made several key decisions that have altered those requirements in an attempt to create more equality in the voting process.
Across the country and the world, people are rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement to enact change in a system that has historically been unjust to people of color. Our company recognizes the struggles African Americans have faced throughout history and think now is the time to elevate the voices of the unheard.
Participatory citizenship is the act of citizens actively participating through community and political life to build a democracy that respects human rights. Currently, members and allies of the Black Lives Matter movement are partaking in their First Amendment right to protest, aiming to enact change for police reform and civil rights, which offers a unique teaching opportunity to encourage active citizenship. How can we find other ways to help our students understand the importance of becoming an active citizen today?
Think back to a moment when you as a student sat in a social studies class and struggled to spit out a memorized date of an important event your teacher said would be integral to remember. Were those moments as dreadful for you as they were for me?
Early in the school year, students often ask me, “why do I need a history class?” They go on to say they know why science, math, and English are taught, but they don't know why they need to learn so many random dates and historical facts. They are skeptical about memorizing facts from the past and its relevance to their future. I generally respond by saying something along the lines of, “you don’t need to memorize everything,” because a vast amount of information is readily available to today’s students online, but I emphasize that there's more to history and social studies than just dates and figures.