Social Studies for the Twenty-First Century: Methods and Materials for Teaching in Middle and Secondary Schools

By Jack Zevin | Go to book overview

Personal Prologue

This book presents the field of social studies with an up-to-date discussion of its most important developments and persisting issues. Like many other fields, social studies is a vast and complicated subject full of problems and inconsistencies to which experience alone can give full meaning. To the new teacher and the uninitiated, social studies may seem confusing and fragmented, leaving teachers rudderless in steering a course through its reefs and shoals.

This volume offers an overall framework that can act as a guide for setting objectives, devising lessons, and choosing classroom strategies. I have also offered assistance in constructing tests and planning lessons, units, and courses for some of the field's most popular and widespread programs. Throughout, all aspects of curriculum and instruction are viewed from a tripartite perspective that divides the world of social studies into didactic, reflective, and affective components. I have used didactic, reflective, and affective to stand for the lower (factual), middle (analytical), and upper (judgmental) ranges of thinking, decision making, and feeling, allowing each about a third of classroom time. The three levels are seen as supporting one another rather than acting in opposition. At no time do I subscribe to interest groups in the field who want their goals stressed at the expense of any others. In my view, the greatest need is for social studies professionals who can balance goals so that students obtain necessary knowledge, are given time for adequate discussions of data, and are asked to probe their own feelings and those of others on the important issues of our time, ultimately taking a stand that they are willing and able to defend. It is the teacher's job to give students the knowledge and skills needed to prepare a solid defense for their views, decisions, and actions.

Of course, giving equal emphasis to each of the three components of teaching is deeply optimistic. We know that social studies teachers are pressed from myriad directions to cover the "facts," finish the textbook, teach thinking skills, complete special projects, use cooperative learning techniques, add authentic assessment to their testing repertory, keep up-to-date with research and curriculum in the field, join and become active in professional organizations, meet national standards in many subjects, and on and on. On top of this, many schools provide a work experience for the teacher that can be characterized only as bureaucratic, demanding, and overstuffed with nonteaching responsibilities. Some schools are repressive and authoritarian as well, giving teachers little or no leeway for creativity or even time to breathe freely for a few moments.

Naturally, such highly pressured situations make excellence in teaching social studies nearly impossible. Valiant effort is necessary to overcome professional demands and personal development problems. Certainly, stoic qualities of endurance have served teachers and teachers-to-be better than Epicurean, fun-loving characteristics!

Nevertheless, I believe that this frequently grim picture must be resisted or we will all lose sight of the joys of teaching, of working with young adults and future citizens, of experimenting with new and exciting methods and materials, and of learning new ideas and improving our own knowledge and understand

-xiii-

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