Teaching History-Social Studies: A Social Action Approach

By Domnwachukwu, Chinaka | Social Studies Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Teaching History-Social Studies: A Social Action Approach


Domnwachukwu, Chinaka, Social Studies Review


A lot of challenges abound for the teaching of history-social studies in schools. Teachers of history and social studies are frequently looking for ways to get students' attention and interest as well as be able to sustain them on an ongoing basis. Students' interest level in history and social studies is often hard to raise, as they tend to see these topics as outdated and distant from their personal interests and concerns. More importantly, teachers of history and social studies often wonder why their subjects are not impacting students' attitudes towards social engagement and responsible citizenship. There is also a growing number of Americans who are continuously disengaged from social/civic involvement as they have come to conclude that their votes do not matter, and their voices do not carry any weight.

Most of these people, who went through our social studies classes, fail to make a connection between the principles and theories we teach them in the social studies classes and their social involvement as responsible citizens. According to the History-Social Studies Standards established by the US Center for Civics and Government, "The well-being of American constitutional democracy depends upon the informed and effective participation of citizens concerned with the preservation of individual rights and the promotion of the common good" (Center for Civics and Government: National Standards). Any tendency to abstain from an active civic participation on the part of citizens, therefore, suggests a social ill that needs to be addressed.

The California History-Social Science Framework provides a comprehensive and strong conceptual basis for this work in stating that the "curricular goal of democratic understanding and civic values is centered on an essential understanding of the nation's identity and constitutional heritage; the civic values that form foundation of the nation's constitutional order and promote cohesion between all groups in a pluralistic society; and the rights and responsibilities of all citizens" (2005, p.20).

In this article, therefore, we will explore ways social studies teachers can make their subject more practical by creating opportunities for their students to become socially engaged, and in the process begin to build citizens who are willing to take a stand on issues, and who can appreciate the power of individual voices and the dignity of social engagement.

The Dilemma of Social Engagement in the History-Social Studies Classroom

The purpose of history education is to develop critical change agents who can engage and respond to issues in society (Friere, 1970; 1973; Duncan-Andrade, 2005). When this goal is not realized, schools fail to serve their purpose.

C. M. Shields (2004) in an article titled, "Creating a Community of Difference," stated that social action education is intertwined with social justice and academic excellence. According to this article, caring and just education attends to both the contexts and outcomes of the learning experience. Social action happens in society as the products of historical forces. Also according to Deborah Golub (2005), "...reflection without action is 'verbalism." A fundamental question that must be asked is: How do history and social studies teachers impact their students toward civic and social engagement?

Hoagland's Dilemma

In a paper titled, "Utilizing Constructivism in the History Classroom," Matthew Hoagland (2000) made the point that yearly parents who come in for Open House in his high school classroom tell him how much they enjoyed history as adults, and wished they appreciated it the same way when they were in high school. His critical assessment as to why high school students fail to appreciate and enjoy history as well as adults yielded that the problem lies much more on how history is taught, rather than the students' lack of life experiences, which he would often give the parents as the possible explanation.

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