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New social studies guidelines can help us learn to thrive together 5/20/21, 9:51 AM

New social studies guidelines can


help us learn to thrive together

Charles Tocci

Posted
By Charles Tocci
Guest columnist 5/20/2021 1:00 AM

How should we live together? In this time of intensifying partisan


polarization, this is a core question facing our social studies teachers as
they educate Illinois' future citizens. We must prepare our young people

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New social studies guidelines can help us learn to thrive together 5/20/21, 9:51 AM

to move past the divides and distrust that plague us and learn to
collaborate across party lines, cultural differences and generations to
develop solutions to our most pressing problems.

But to get there, we need instructional standards that guide and support
teachers in this critical work. This is why I joined a team of almost 50
educators from all corners of Illinois for weekly meetings from August
through March to craft a revision to our current standards. The group
was convened by the Illinois State Board of Education in response to the
major social changes we've experienced since new standards were
adopted in 2016.

In Illinois, standards do not specify what curriculum schools should use


or how teachers should teach. Rather, they identify what students
should know and be able to do at different grade levels. The present
social science standards emphasize the inquiry process. That is, teaching
students the skills necessary to look at our world and then pose
questions, collect evidence, analyze that evidence and effectively
communicate their findings. In some cases, students will go further and
take action informed by their research, such as the Ball-Chatham sixth-
grade students who connected their study of the Revolutionary War to
making change in the present.

Taking an inquiry-based approach is a powerful way to prepare students


to be the critical, independent thinkers that democracy relies on, and
our team focused on strengthening this feature of the standards. For
instance, we added new language asking students to seek out sources
from multiple points of view and identify counter-arguments to make

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New social studies guidelines can help us learn to thrive together 5/20/21, 9:51 AM

sure they don't only look for evidence that confirms their current beliefs.

But we also needed to ensure that our standards became more culturally
responsive. This means outlining expectations that students understand
their own history and culture as well as the histories and cultures of
others across Illinois. Our state has a diverse student body: 48% White,
27% Hispanic, 17% Black, 5% Asian, 4% two or more races, as well as
many Native American students. There is no single perspective on the
past or present reflecting the varied experiences of all these people.

The future of our democracy relies on citizens who have studied each
other and learned about the struggles, successes, major events and key
contributions that mark the intertwined histories of Illinois' many
communities. This is why we have included standards like, "Identify and
analyze the role of individuals, groups and institutions in people's
struggle for safety, freedom, equality and justice" (SS. H. 7.9-12.) and
"Compare and connect significant diverse individuals, cultures and
groups with events that changed history" (SS. H. 2.2). These ask
teachers to create lessons that include the experiences of all Illinois'
citizens so that students can appreciate our differences as well as our
commonalities. That is a precondition for working together for a better
future.

ISBE is taking public comments on the proposal by email until May 24


at rules@isbe.net. The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition has posted charts
showing the current standards and the proposed revisions side-by-side
for easy comparison. All feedback will receive a response and be
reviewed by the board for possible changes to the proposal. A finalized

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New social studies guidelines can help us learn to thrive together 5/20/21, 9:51 AM

version will be voted on by the state legislature's Joint Committee on


Administrative Rules later this summer, which is the last step before
implementation in the 2022-2023 school year.

I encourage everyone to read the proposed changes and take the


opportunity to provide feedback because this is a kind of democratic
action we want students to take in the future. We need to hear all voices
and consider a range of perspectives in order to do more than just live
together, but thrive together as a state.

• Charles Tocci is an assistant professor of social studies education at


Loyola University Chicago and the father of four Chicago Public Schools
students. He was a member of the ISBE social studies standards revision
team.

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