Editor's Notebook

By Simpson, Michael | Social Education, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Editor's Notebook


Simpson, Michael, Social Education


CAROLE L. HAHN RECENTLY reported in our pages on the results of an international study that compared the civic knowledge of young people in 28 countries. Almost 3,000 American ninth grade students participated in the survey. Although the study showed discrepancies in civic knowledge among Americans with different socioeconomic backgrounds, there was some good news: American students performed above the international average and "did exceptionally well on the items that measured such skills as the ability to comprehend political messages, interpret political cartoons, and distinguish fact from opinion." ([dagger])

It's always encouraging to hear news of a good performance. It's doubly so because the skills that the American students showed are among those that many American civic educators--including numerous contributors to this journal--judge important for the development of analytical competence and independent thinking among students. Good and well-rounded instruction in all social studies subjects is the key to educating students for citizenship.

All the articles in this issue are informed by a concern to develop students' capabilities to inquire into problems, analyze them, and solve them. As is our tradition in April, part of this issue is devoted to a special section on instructional technology that will be especially useful to teachers seeking to open new worlds and develop new skills for their students. Prepared by our Technology Department editors, Michael Berson and Cheryl Mason Bolick, it identifies ways in which currently available technology can be used to support powerful social studies instruction.

The first feature in this issue of Social Education, by Lee Ann Potter of the National Archives, highlights the importance of the census in American life. Her article on the 1930 census sees it through the eyes of enumerators (of whom there were more than 87,000) employed by the Bureau of the Census to administer a 32-item questionnaire in households throughout the nation. Their efforts resulted in the counting of more than 123 million people. Specific information about individuals and families is restricted by law for 72 years from the date of the census, so the full schedules of the 1930 census have just been made available. She suggests teaching activities related to these that will help students understand the reasons for having a census and also learn more about the country in 1930.

Our Looking at the Law column deals with First Amendment issues. Eric Michael Mazur examines the impact that legal limitations on religious freedom have had on minority religions, looking at historic First Amendment cases involving Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Native American religious traditions. He maintains that the further a religious minority has been from the religious mainstream of this country, the more difficult has been its experience with the constitutional order. The accompanying teaching suggestions include examples of present-day situations that can give students a better understanding of the theory and practical applications of the First Amendment.

In the first contribution to the special section on technology, John K. Lee addresses a problem in using the Internet for social studies instruction: "the web has become a haven for personal, ideologically driven forms of expression," (162) so that teachers cannot use websites in the same way that they use textbooks. …

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