Analyzing Public Issues - Clarification through Discussion: A Case Study of Social Studies Teachers

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 1957, two events helped set the stage for reform within the social studies curriculum. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, Americans feared Soviet technical superiority, causing a collective re-examination of school curriculum. The second event came from two researchers at Purdue University in the form of a public opinion poll of school age children. The results of the poll pushed for the dismal of the social studies in schools. Students believed the government should exercise the right to limit freedom of speech and have the power of search and seizure of individual's homes without search warrants. According to Barr, Barth and Shermis (1977), the Council for Basic Education and a substantial portion of Americans pushed for education reform.

Almost overnight the Office of Education launched a movement to make major changes in the nation's social studies curriculum by funding a variety of social studies projects which included: 1) the Carnegie-Mellon Social Studies Project, 2) the University of Minnesota Project Social Studies, 3) the Anthropology Curriculum Study Project, 4) Basic Concepts in History and Social Sciences, 5) the Committee on the Study of History, 6) the Developmental Economic Education Program, 7) Development of Economic Curricular Materials for Secondary Schools, 8) ECON 12, 9) the High School Geography Project, 10) Sociological Resources for secondary Schools, 11) the Harvard Social Studies Project, 12) Asian Studies Inquiry Project, 13) Project Africa, and 14) the North Central Association Foreign Relations Project (Dumas and Guenther, 1971). Eventual more than 50 projects were develop, to either integrate social studies for the purpose of citizenship education, or to teach history and social sciences as ends in themselves.

During the 1960s, new materials and projects were developed focusing on controversial issues, inquiry-based assessment, and student-led decision making. The Harvard Social Studies Project was one of the most popular curriculum projects to come out of the new social studies. Developed to teach high school students of average ability to clarify and justify their positions on public issues, the project used historical, fictional, and contemporary situations as illustrations of basic social and value conflicts. Analyzing Public Issues: Clarification through Discussion was one of many approaches used throughout the project.

According to Oliver and Newmann (1969) clarification through discussion can be divided into three basic elements: 1) the analysis of public controversy in terms of prescriptive, descriptive, and analytical issues, 2) the use of distinct strategies for justification and clarification, and 3) a systematic attention to the discussion process as one deals with controversial issues.

Research Study

Today, the discussion method is one of several teaching strategies used by social studies teachers as a means of learning. Unfortunately, many teachers often neglect this method of instruction due to the lack of control and comfort in students openly discussing and debating issues. Rather, teachers tend to use only one teaching style day after day, which denies the opportunity of a variety of teaching techniques (Siler, 1998).

The use of discussion, particularly clarification and analyzes through discussion can be used to teach students of average ability to clarify and justify their opinions on public issues, literature and historical events. Hess (2001) suggested that teaching with discussion and allowing student feedback means improving students' ability to think. Furthermore, teaching with discussion enables students to develop an understanding of the issues, enhance critical thinking skills, and improve student's interpersonal skills.

Harwood and Hahn (1990) allude that analyzing controversial topics is prevalent to the social studies for three reasons. First, analyzing controversial issues through discussion helps prepare students for future roles as citizens in a pluralistic society. …