In an age when you can find facts about geography and history in your phone, some may wonder about the purpose of social studies education. Social studies matters more than ever.
Four Reasons to Study Social Studies in the Information Age:
1.) Information is everywhere (and it isn’t always fact-checked).
We are inundated with information every day, and much of it seems to have a bias or agenda. It has never been more important for people, especially young people, to learn to critically examine what they are reading and watching. In the world of a 24-hour news cycle and social media news, it can be very challenging to identify the stories and factoids that you should believe.
Constructive social studies education encourages students to consider multiple perspectives, bias, and source information. Highlighting the importance of viewpoints in historical studies promotes the global understanding of events or issues. By teaching these essential social studies inquiry skills, students grow to become careful, critical consumers of information.
2.) Social Studies education is essential to democracy.
One of the primary goals of public education is to promote citizenship skills for competent participation in the democratic process. And studies prove that social studies instruction can increase civic engagement. A study by the Carnegie Corporation of New York found that students who received effective education in social studies were more likely to vote, four times more likely to volunteer, and were generally more confident in their ability to communicate ideas with their elected representatives.
Not only does social studies improve civic engagement, it also builds citizenship skills such as civil discourse and consensus building. When students participate in classroom social studies experiences such as debates, Socratic seminars, current issue discussions, and problem-based learning, they build communication and collaborative skills. Teachers support these experiences by modeling effective listening, appropriate responses, and ground rules for civic discourse. In an increasingly polarized environment, learning to listen and build collaborative solutions will support the democratic process.
3.) Global understanding in a “shrinking” world
The information age and technology advancements bring people around the world together in unprecedented ways. The world is ‘smaller’ and more accessible. Even remote areas of the world have indirect or direct relevance on our daily lives.
Our global community requires that students explore the variety and complexity of human experiences around the world. They need to gain understanding of the lands, people, and cultures to build relationships in marketplaces and global communities.
4.) A Sense of We
A sound, basic social studies education can and should promote national identity, unity, and loyalty without indoctrination. Developing an understanding of the American journey does not conflict with the goal of creating independent citizens in a pluralistic society. Instead, a common understanding of our government and its stories allow a foundation for conversation and growth.
Ben Sasse, Republican Senator of Nebraska, recently reflected on the current divisive political climate in a recent interview with NPR. He said, “we need an overarching sense of ‘we’ that precedes and supersedes the particular policy or legislative issues that you might fight about. And that sense of ‘we’ includes the freedom of the press and religion and speech and assembly.” I agree. If our students do not understand the history, core institutions, and values of our country, they won’t be able to defend them.
Unfortunately, social studies education has been marginalized in recent decades. It is well documented that schools have dramatically decreased social studies instructional time, if they teach social studies in elementary schools at all. This must change.
In addition to increasing instructional time for social studies, we need to ensure effective social studies instructional practice. Teachers should utilize source inquiry, discussions, integrated projects, and simulations in their daily lessons. Questioning and evaluating information are essential to historical study and it should be regularly embedded in social studies instruction.
Social Studies should require the use of critical thinking skills as well as creativity, collaboration, and communication. These practices prepare students for the 21stcentury and support a stronger democratic society.