Our Journeys: Social Studies to Social Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

The journey between social studies and social education leads travelers down a potentially transformative path with "white spaces" on a map that continuously needs examination. And yes, it really is about the journey and not the destination. Family, friends, school, and life sowed the seeds long ago; the freedom of the discipline allows the forging of a new path. Learning to play the school game, learning to tell what matters, vacations to state capitals and Civil War battle sites, reading, volunteering, travels abroad ... all contribute to our journeys. But we realize that our students teach us more than we could ever teach them. We do not just teach social studies, we teach social education. When students leave our classes smiling and shaking their heads, trying to make it all make sense, we are delighted. What in this lesson connects with you we will ask at every opportunity. Students tell us, too. They want to do history and geography, economics and popular culture. They do not want to sit and have it "done to them."

Critical investigations begin with teaching traditional social studies education. We continue to debate and struggle with a journey called social education - something that has no "true" definition, which is always evolving, and is comprised of common personal themes. While we resist "defining" social education, we believe that social education emphasizes three areas of study: critical pedagogy, cultural/media studies, and social studies education - all with the potential to advance social justice. Projects and research take hold, focusing on the community, global education, international experiences, and rethinking traditional American history. Sharing personal stories illuminate the maps; our shared experiences provide the compass.

Personal Stories - Beginning the Journey

Twists and turns define our exploration into the heart of social education, requiring us to realign our internal compass and hold tight to our traveling partners. Navigating this social education journey we discover that each traveler's itinerary is an individualized process allowing for divergent teaching and learning opportunities. In this context, the "white spaces" are rough hewn educational landscapes that create exhilarating learning experiences - well worth the effort in the end in spite of the difficulties one encounters when exploring the road that is "wanting wear" (Frost, 1920) - more specifically, transformative education.

The National Council for the Social Studies (1994) explains that "democratic societies are characterized by hard which "involve personal behavior" (p. 9). In the of social studies education, we question fundamental values. Social studies scholars charge teachers with the decision - "transmission or transformation" (Stanley, 2005). White (2003) argues that "reforming, reacting improving, acquiescing, and adapting are not approaches or methods we should be using. Educators need to be thinking in terms of transformation." (p.2)

Kincheloe (2001) cautions true reform calls for a radical overhaul of the entire educational system; we attempt to blaze a trail of transformative practice through a social studies discipline. Along the way, we explore numerous concepts for transformative teaching and learning in our social studies discipline, and theories aimed at reform bombard us with confusion or indecision which weighs heavily on pedagogical choices (Ross , 200 1 ; Stanley, 2001; Evans, 2004; Kincheloe, 2001; Dewey, 1908). The substance of curricula most often rnirrors traditional values not aligned with our own thoughts and those of our students, but nonetheless, traditional social studies curricula weaves throughout our practice (Meuwissen, 2006).

Illuminating the Pathways

With tentative steps off the beaten path, we reject the prescribed "teacher-proof curriculum and work together to map out replacements. Students are most likely to participate in rigorous activities not common to textbook material, and to experience learning in collaborative groups. …