THE PREPARATION of teachers in any discipline is a complex enterprise with an array of stakeholders serving as gatekeepers. In the May Kappan, Sam Wineburg focused his analysis of the preparation of social studies teachers on the curriculum standards of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and on the teacher preparation standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). We find his argument to be incomplete, for we believe that it ignores forces--subtle and not so subtle--that are also a part of this complex enterprise.
The preparation of social studies teachers involves colleges of education and the liberal arts, K-12 schools, state departments of education, social studies/social science professional organizations, and accrediting agencies. These major players are influenced by societal trends; by interest groups; by research in social studies, in the social sciences, and in education; and by society's proclivity for developing programs that are cost-effective, well grounded in research, sufficiently flexible to be implemented in a variety of settings, and capable of satisfying the ever-changing demand for teachers. Moreover, the preparation of social studies teachers is influenced by the ideologies espoused by the various groups involved in this complex enterprise. And these ideologies address questions that educators have struggled with for decades: What is the definition and purpose of social studies? What are effective approaches for implementing social studies education in K-12 schools? How should children and young adults demonstrate their knowledge and competencies in social studies?
Despite all of this complexity, we must still ask the important question: What educational experiences will lead to the effective preparation of K-12 social studies teachers? Focusing on the NCSS curriculum standards and the NCATE teacher preparation standards, as Wineburg does, does not take account of all parts of this complex enterprise. So what do the NCSS/NCATE standards have to say about the preparation of social studies teachers, and what impact can they have on that preparation?
Let us reflect on the second question first and consider, as an example, the relationship between professional education programs and the liberal arts. Education faculty members are not solely responsible for the preparation of teachers. Indeed, if we hope for social studies teachers to be more literate in their content fields, we must look to the social science faculties at our colleges and universities to help us meet that need. However, relations between liberal arts faculty members and education faculty members are often distant, and collaboration and communication are not common. Faculty members in the social sciences are often not rewarded for expending energy on teacher education. That is not why they earned Ph.D.s in history or political science, nor is it why they were hired as professors. Furthermore, it is often the case that courses offered in history and the social sciences do little to facilitate an understanding of literacy in those disciplines. Rather than thinking like historians and political scientists, undergraduate majors in social science disciplines spend much of their time learning information.
Not surprisingly, many of the questions Wineburg raises are rarely dealt with in courses in the disciplines. However, the NCATE/NCSS teacher preparation standards have promoted initiatives to improve communication between faculty members in the arts and sciences and their peers in education. In order for programs preparing social studies teachers to demonstrate that their teacher candidates have acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to teach social studies, education faculty members must collaborate with faculty members in history and the social sciences. In short, dialogue about the appropriate skills and knowledge for teachers of social studies, which has been promoted by the NCATE/NCSS teacher preparation standards, has fostered cross-disciplinary cooperation. …