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Rationale for Teaching Social Studies


When people think of the most important subjects in school math and science usually
come to mind most often. It is very common for many people to overlook social studies when
constructing a list of this kind. What they fail to see is that the social studies are just as, if not
more, important as math and science. The case can be made that social studies encompasses the
most material out of any academic subject. History alone probably eclipses the amount of
material in any other subject. Through social, economic, political, and psychological thinking
practically all events and ideas in the history of mankind can be studied and analyzed within the
framework of social studies. Social studies offer a wide array of viewpoints and different
perspectives to use for analysis. Human behavior, past, present, and future are able to be studied
within the realms of social studies. I firmly believe that all other disciplines can be included
within the scope of social studies. For these reasons I believe that social studies is the most
important discipline to be studied and teachers need to motivate their students to embrace what it
has to offer.
It is a common complaint of students to declare that they dont like history because it is
too boring and not relatable to their lives. They do not enjoy learning about something that
happened hundreds, possibly even thousands of years ago and seemingly has no impact on the
current state of affairs. What teachers need to make known to their students is that this couldnt
be farther from the truth. History is not the past, but rather the study and analysis of the past.1
By analyzing the past it is possible to apply the material to understanding the present. Relating
past events to the present will result in students being more engaged and will eliminate that
feeling of boringness. Studying the past helps all of us develop an appreciation for where our
1 Samuel Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the
Future of Teaching the Past. Pg 7-12

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ancestors came from and how the society we live in has developed over time. Students will
inevitably at times find themselves wondering why some things are the way they are and the only
way to figure that out is to study the past. Studying history not only helps us appreciate the
origins of our own society, but also the societies of other nations. If we do not analyze the
historical experiences of other groups of people then our society will never be able to relate to
other cultures and understand why they behave as they do or make the decisions they make. It is
important to not be narrow-minded and to learn about other perspectives different from our own.
Whether we realize it or not, everyone uses some form of history whether it is for their own
personal agenda or for political, social, or economic reasons.2
Studying social studies assists in creating well rounded individuals. The discipline of social
studies main goal is to prepare students for a democratic life.3 This preparation begins in the
classroom as social studies focuses on these ideals. A cornerstone of creating good citizens can
be found in Civics classes. This is where students learn about the law and how our society
regulates itself. Also classes in Economics give insight into how our local, national, and global
economies function. People might say money isnt everything, but theres no denying that its
pretty important. Economics is something every individual should have at least a basic
knowledge for because of how influential it is on the world we live in. Social studies disciplines,
such as Civics, focus on important issues that are not found in as much detail in any other
subject. Issues, such as justice, are discussed at length within this discipline which is an

2 Nikki Mandell and Bobbie Malone. Thinking like a Historian: Rethinking History
Instruction : A Framework to Enhance and Improve Teaching and Learning. Pg 1-20
3 Thomas Levine. Social Studies Classrooms as Communities. University of
Connecticut Pg 3-10

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important component to have if the goal is to create well informed citizens for a democratic life.4
Going off this idea, it would be ignorant to not discuss controversial issues in a social studies
classroom. While this topic is sometimes ignored in schools it is vital that all people are made
aware of controversial issues if they are to maximize their impact in a democratic society.5 These
issues need to be brought to light and a classroom setting is a place where these topics can be
discussed in an intellectual and civil manner. If they are not taught properly or are omitted in
their entirety then people will be at a huge disadvantage not only in becoming good citizens, but
also in developing empathy for people and issues that might otherwise be foreign to them. Only
by studying issues of justice and other controversial topics can an individual truly become a
good citizen in a democratic society.
In a more simplified sense, learning social studies not only develops a student into a
better, more informed person, but it also improves skills we can use both in the classroom and in
life. Obviously studying the discipline will give students a well-rounded education, but it has
more than just that to offer. Being engaged in history class will benefit students reading and
writing skills. Reading like a historian helps students learn to read and write properly. Students
will be able to read contextually and read between the lines as in not take the readings for their
face value.6 Reading critically is an important tool to possess because people need to be aware to
not believe everything they hear. Reading critically can easily be transitioned into thinking
critically. The ability to analyze, synthesis, comprehend, and evaluate are all skills that are tested

4 Keith Barton and Linda Levstik, Teaching History for the Common Good. Pg 5-13
5 Diana Hess, Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion.
Pg 27-37
6 Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Pg 64-68

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and improved on when studying the social studies discipline. Also social studies, specifically
history, uses a process of problem solving much like how math and science do.7 These skills of
performing research and drawing conclusions are necessary to master to reach the full potential
as a student. Even something as simple as learning how to read a map in geography is an
essential skill if one ever plans on venturing into the world. In addition, these skills are easily
transferable to other disciplines, but they are most often fine-tuned within the realms of social
studies. Studying history and social studies in general entails a certain way of thinking and
encourages students to analyze material, take a position, defend that position with evidence, and
demonstrate understanding.8 We all have opinions on a wide array of items, but they are empty
unless one has reasons or evidence to defend their stance. The skills involved with this process
are practiced in social studies. Teachers need to ensure that their students are practicing these
skills listed above because they will not only help the students across disciplines in school, but it
will make them better learners, thinkers, and all around better people in life.
There is no denying it; there is history all around us. From museums to monuments to movies it
consumes daily life whether we recognize it or not. History is also prevalent in photos, whether
historical photos or just family photos from the past. People, whether they like history or not,
will be exposed to forms of it throughout their lives.9 Therefore it is important to be exposed to
history in school to gain a solid base of information. Teachers do not have to train all their
students to be the next great historian, but they do need to instill, at the very least, a basic sense
7 Larry Cuban How Can I Fix It?: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas : An
Educator's Road Map. Pg 3
8 Nikki Mandell Thinking like a Historian, Pg 10-12
9 Alan S. Marcus and Levine, Thomas H. Knight at the Museum: Learning History
with Museums. Pg 104

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of historical understanding in their students. This relates back to what it takes to create a good
citizen. Again, individuals dont have to become content masters, but there needs to be a deeper
understanding than just Abe Lincoln is that guy on the five dollar bill.
Another reason as to why the social studies are so important is that it involves the strong sense of
emotion.10 Emotions play such an important role in peoples lives. The subjects within the social
studies, especially history, pay attention to the emotions of different people which impacts the
historical memory of those involved and those who will study it later on. Lived vs learned
memory is also an important topic to teach because it really does create a difference in how
people and events are remembered. Again this is something that is felt by all people. Even one
of the most recent significant events in students lives, September 11th, will be remembered
differently by the student then by their teacher. Emotions are not a topic that students are tested
on formally, but rather something that impacts the very nature of human beings. Emotions are a
part of life and motivate peoples actions in different ways. This is another example of how
teaching social studies will impact students more than just in the classroom, but will help shape
their characteristics and skills in life.
These are just some of the main reasons as to why social studies are an important discipline to
study and analyze. In order to learn this discipline successfully trained and well prepared
teachers need to be in place to guide their students through the material. I chose to be a teacher
because I want to make an impact on the lives of young people and prepare them for the future.
In comparison, social studies is the discipline most useful to study in preparing for a democratic
life. Other subjects like math and science certainly have their place, but the foundations are
learned in social studies. Teachers help students hone their skills in critical thinking and

10 Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, Pg 217-220

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improving reading and writing abilities. Teachers instruct students about the past while making
connections to the present and future. A good teacher will make it obvious to their students that
history isnt just something from the past written down in an old textbook; history is living and
dynamic. It is seen all around us. No person can ever progress forward unless they are aware of
where they have already been. As stated earlier, almost all events, people, and ideas can be
studied and analyzed within the realms of the social studies discipline. That pretty much speaks
for itself as to why it is vitally important to teach social studies in school.

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Works Cited:

Barton, Keith C., and Linda S. Levstik. Teaching History for the Common Good. Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Cuban, Larry. How Can I Fix It?: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas : An Educator's
Road Map. New York: Teachers College, 2001
Hess, Diana E. Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion. New York:
Routledge, 2009
Levine, Thomas H. Social Studies Classrooms as Communities. University of Connecticut
Mandell, Nikki, and Bobbie Malone. Thinking like a Historian: Rethinking History Instruction:
A Framework to Enhance and Improve Teaching and Learning. [Madison, Wis.]: Wisconsin
Historical Society, 2007
Marcus, Alan S. and Levine, Thomas H. Knight at the Museum: Learning History with
Museums. The Social Studies, (104-109). 2011
Wineburg, Samuel S. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of
Teaching the Past. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2001