Chapter 1 - Section 2

Approaches to Teaching Social Studies

     The social studies in grades K-12 are derived from the academic disciplines. However, the goals and selected content is not directly copied from those disciplines. The social studies content is more of an integration of the academic disciplines. Since the early 1900s, various arguments were put forward as to the appropriate content for the social studies. These arguments continued for almost 90 years. Arguments settled down as Barr, Barth, & Shermis (1978) summarized the three main traditions of the social studies.

     One historic approach to the social studies was that of citizenship transmission. With the waves of immigration into the United States prior to and after 1900, many social studies educators felt that the new immigrants should learn what it takes to be a citizen. These new citizens should be inculcated into the American way of thinking and its traditions.

     A second social studies approach was that of social studies taught as social science. History had long reigned as the pre-eminent school subject. In the late 19th century, the various academic disciplines started to emerge and separate from history. Advocates of these separate disciplines began to pressure the schools to be included along with history. Soon separate subjects that derived directly from the academic disciplines were being taught in the schools, e.g. geography. This push for geographic education gained strength with the expansion of the United States and World War I.

     The third approach to the social studies was as reflective inquiry. During the 1930s, John Dewey and others were concerned that rote-memorization of facts and details did little to motivate students to apply history and the social sciences. This view proposed that students learned better and remembered longer when they did their own work, their own research and their own inquiry. Students, under a teacher’s guidance, could develop a learning project, carry it out and learn more than just listening to a lecture and writing down notes.

     These three approaches varied in the schools. It depended upon local community purposes for the social studies. Generally, the citizenship approach was primary but the other approaches were argued for and implemented as well. These arguments continued into the 1980s and 1990s. With the standards movement funded by the United States Department of Education, various subject matter organizations developed specific purposes and standards for their academic disciplines as they were applied to the schools.
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