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Social Studies Rationale

Quinn Austermann
University of Connecticut
The importance of Social Studies education, specifically throughout secondary years, is
to provide students with skills and interests that will carry-on after high school. Many students
often do not take a history class after high school graduation, so it is crucial to instill democratic
practices in adolescents. The most effective way have a lasting effect on students is through
promoting historical understanding. Developing historical understanding includes provoking
empathy through multiple perspectives, evaluating turning points, making past and present
connections, determining cause and effect, and recognizing change and continuity. Social
studies education is essential for promoting this historical understanding in students and
preparing them to be active citizens after high school. As a future social studies educator, I will
achieve this by teaching with multiple sources, engaging students in controversial issues, and
promoting participatory democracy.
Social studies classrooms open a door to learning that many students would not have the
option of exploring. With the use of multiple, engaging sources, students have the availability to
think, analyze, and engage in aspects of history, or other parts of the world, that they may not
otherwise be exposed to. For example, teaching social studies through film and museums
introduces students to authentic issues in an engaging way. Film, specifically, provokes
historical literacy in students. Students are already highly accustomed to film, but when
presented in a social studies classroom film can be used as modern-day cultural artifacts
(Marcus et al., 2010). Students can analyze the time period it was created, develop connections
between the past and present, and evaluate the historical content. Additionally, students are
developing their historical analytical skills by using film as primary and secondary sources.
These aspects of historical understanding, combined with empathy through caring and
recognizing multiple perspectives, promote valuable skills that will transfer to other subjects and
carry-on throughout life.
Museums, like film, are tools to supplement historical understanding in social studies
classrooms. Students are able to analyze artifacts and develop a sense of empathy for a person,
or group of people, in a different time period. Outside of the classroom, students may be limited
to this opportunity for a myriad of reasons, which is why social studies education is essential to
student growth. In addition to museums, students can visit monuments and memorials, which
provide a sense of attitudes and beliefs of the time period of construction. This sense of past-
present connections provided through museums, monuments and memorials, as well as empathy
stimulation, greatly contribute to students historical understanding. Through experiencing these
artifacts, many controversial issues may arise, such as why something was created, or why
something was left out. This, in turn, promotes open and deliberate discussion that reflects
citizenship education. Furthermore, the use of multiple sources in social studies classrooms,
such as music and art in addition to film and museums, develops analytical skills that allow
students to think and form conclusions independently (Marcus, et al., 2012).
Social studies and history are essential subjects in order to engage students in discussion
about controversial issues. Controversy is often a topic that is avoided and perceived as a chancy
subject. Rather, it is an essential topic to be addressed as it promotes empathy and tolerance for
differing perspectives. Discussion about controversial issues creates open-mindedness and
understanding about important issues, thus promoting a healthy democracy (Hess, 2009). A
social studies classroom, therefore, is the ideal environment for holding these discussions.
Within social studies and history curriculum, there is a wide range of topics considered
controversial and open for debate. For instance, politics, civil rights, and historical events all
contain moments of controversy. I strive to become a social studies teacher that is effective in
teaching students how to participate in effective, authentic instruction. Additionally, all schools
contain classrooms that hold a degree of diversity, and therefore it is important for social studies
teachers to present students with the practice of engaging in discussion of controversial issues.
In order to create a comfortable environment to engage in meaningful discussions, social
studies classrooms must represent a Community of Practice (CoP) that promotes participatory
democracy. Participatory democracy includes developing knowledge, skills, and attitudes that
contribute to intelligent discussions (Levine). History and social studies are essential to
education in order to provoke social action. Since history is a deeply analytical subject, teachers
must engage students by providing access to multiple sources and activities, which in turn
promotes students to discuss, debate, and act like informed citizens. Students knowledge of
government must be greater than how it works, which requires participation in behaviors that
represent democratic societies (Barton and Levstik, 2004). Active members of society grow
from social studies classrooms that represent a community of practice.
Regardless of what direction one takes in life, social studies and history are crucial to a
well-balanced education. Students develop historical understanding, which provides skills and
attitudes that only social studies can provoke. Through analysis of multiple primary and
secondary sources - such as film and museums - and contribution in discussion of controversial
issues, students are practicing democratic participation that extends well beyond school. Social
studies classrooms provide students a Community of Practice, in which they think critically
about authentic issues. As a future social studies educator, I will develop an environment that
prepares my students for an active, influential life post-graduation.

Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L.S. (2004). Participatory Democracy and Democratic Humanism in
Teaching History for the Common Good, 25-44.
Hess, D. E., (2009). Why Democracy Demands Controversy in Controversy in the Classroom:
The Democratic Power of Discussion, 11-19.
Levine, T. H., A small group of thoughtful, committed citizens: Social studies classrooms as
communities of practice that enable social action.
Marcus, A. S., Metzger, S. A., Richard, P., & Stoddard, J. D. (2010). Teaching History with
Marcus, Alan S., Jeremy D. Stoddard, Walter W. Woodward (2012). Teaching History with