The NCSS Presidency: Perennial Themes of Leadership

By Sheehan, James J.; Previte, Mark A. | Social Education, April 2004 | Go to article overview

The NCSS Presidency: Perennial Themes of Leadership


Sheehan, James J., Previte, Mark A., Social Education


Assuming a presidential leadership position whether of a nation, a business enterprise, or a professional organization such as National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) lends itself to addressing change. Presidents of professional organizations must make critical decisions, trail blaze new courses of action, and affect change. Effective leadership is perhaps the quintessential element for the success of any organization. To enable presidents of professional organizations to achieve this, they often use the annual addresses as their mouthpiece to convey their thoughts, ideas, and opinions.

This article provides a brief overview and highlights perennial themes of selected NCSS presidential addresses from 1936 to 2000. It illustrates examples of agendas, policies, and approaches to change that presidents have espoused. The article also shows how certain issues have been debated throughout NCSS's history. By highlighting these themes, we hope that previous struggles can shed light on the world of professional social studies teachers today.

Like most leaders, presidents of NCSS addressed societal events during their tenure and at the same time attempted to balance the needs of their constituents. During the 1930s, presidents were concerned with preparing students for a rapidly changing society in America. In the 1940s, they addressed a world war and the development of a global community In the 1950s, the presidents addressed the curricular view for a balance between scholarship and pedagogy. Throughout the 1960s, the presidents sought to adapt the curriculum to changing times and students' wants and needs.

The 1970s was a turbulent period. The presidents called for the reevaluation of teacher preparation, for educational reform, and for citizenship education. And since the 1980s, presidents have addressed multiple concerns such as global education, multicultural education, and the need for national social studies standards as the country moved into the new century.

But along with these more timely concerns, presidential addresses have often discussed what we have called "perennial themes." Time and again through the years these issues have concerned not only NCSS's presidents and leadership, but also its members. For brevity, we have narrowed the field down to five such themes: diversity, citizenship, global education, the social studies curriculum, and the role and purpose of NCSS as a professional organization. We encourage readers to review the statements of past NCSS presidents and to reflect on how we still struggle with many of the same issues today.

Diversity

One of the earliest themes put forth in the NCSS presidential addresses was the diverse composition of American society. R.O. Hughes, in his 1936 presidential speech "Social Sanity," addressed the need for tolerance and understanding of differences:

   May I stress right here our opportunity
   in the field of social studies
   to emphasize the importance of
   the cultivation of the virtue of tolerance?
   In a free democracy there
   is room for all shades of opinion. (1)

In his 1944 speech, "The Role of the Social Studies Teacher in the Post War World," I. James Quillen reported that NCSS had identified intercultural relations in its postwar policy statement of responsibilities as major goals "... to ensure mutual respect and equal opportunity for all cultural and ethnic groups in our classrooms, schools, and communities .... All people belong to some minority group and the persecution of one endangers the security and welfare of all." (2) James Banks, in his 1982 presidential address, believed that "... cultural group membership also provides individuals with a foundation for self-definition, and senses of belonging, of shared traditions, and an interdependence of fate." (3) Tedd Levy, in his 1998 presidential address, stated that those who have compassion for their fellow human beings and the courage to champion a larger cause make great teachers. …

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