Philosophy Perspectives in Teaching Social Studies

By Ediger, Marlow | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Philosophy Perspectives in Teaching Social Studies


Ediger, Marlow, Journal of Instructional Psychology


Teachers need to have much knowledge and skill when implementing diverse philosophies of teaching and learning. Philosophy provides guidance and direction to the teacher when choosing objectives, learning opportunities, and evaluation procedures for ongoing lessons and units of study in the social studies.

There are diverse philosophies of instruction which the social studies teacher needs to study and analyze, to come up with a necessary synthesis. The synthesis is needed to use in providing guidance in teaching the social studies. A teacher needs to be, among other things, a philosopher who knows different philosophical schools of thought and can implement these in a favorable manner. Perhaps, a thorough investigation of philosophy in education can provide avenues of instruction to meet personal needs of pupils. Too frequently in teacher education, educational philosophy was taught from the point of view in preparing teachers to do well in the midterm and final test in the course rather than for utilitarian purposes. Philosophy can be taught in teacher education whereby application might well be made of its tenets. I have had a philosophy of education course in higher education in which use was made in the classroom of its inherent values (See Ediger, 1995, 246251). Thus, the instructor demonstrated how each school of thought might be implemented in the classroom. Let us look at philosophy of education from the point of view of teaching social studies in the elementary school.

The Project Method in Teaching Social Studies

The project method (Kilpatrick, 1918) was made famous by William Heard Kilpatrick (1874-1965), late professor at Columbia University in New York City. Dr. Kilpatrick emphasized the project method after experiences students had in vocational agriculture and in Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization in rural areas.

As a high school student in a small rural high school, in Inman, Kansas, I took three years of vocational agriculture and made the rank of State Farmer in FFA. The State Farmer rank was open to two per cent of the FFA members within a state. I had projects in registered Milking Shorthorn cattle and registered Duroc Jersey hogs on the farm. Careful and accurate record keeping of income and expenses was necessary in maintaining these projects. I was very careful in tending to these projects since they were also shown at the county and state fairs in Kansas. I learned responsibility, effort, and quality work habits from the projects of caring for livestock.

Dr. Kilpatrick transferred the ideas from agricultural education to the public school curriculum. School and society were not to be separate endeavors, but become one. In developing a project in social studies, the pupil first needed a purpose. The purpose arose within a context of the unit being taught. If pupils, for example, were studying a unit on The Middle East, with background information provided for the unit of study, a pupil or committee may wish to make a replica of the wall around the old city of Jerusalem. The purpose then was a reason, goal centered by learners with teacher guidance, to complete an activity. Wholehearted involvement by pupils was necessary. The purpose did not come from textbooks, nor from the teacher. The pupil must do the learning and needed to perceive purpose or reasons for learning.

Once the purpose for action is determined, learners individually or collaboratively need to make plans for achieving the purpose. The plans then for making a model walled city of Jerusalem involved the following:

1. securing a cardboard box, about three feet by four feet in dimensions.

2. cutting eight entrances or gates leading Into the old city.

3. cutting turrets to look like the top of the wall around old Jerusalem.

4. shaping the walls as much as possible to appear as the wall surrounding Jerusalem, completed in 1542 by the Ottoman Empire which governed this area at that time. …

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