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What is Social Studies?

What are social studies

Response from “Ask Former Trustees – Clear Creek ISD Chapter”: Joanna Baleson, Ken Baliker, Jennifer Broddle, Bob Davee, Glenn Freedman, Ann Hammond, Charlie Pond, Page Rander, Dee Scott, Win Weber

About social studies - what is it?

Social studies, also called the social sciences, is an umbrella term used by educators to reference the parts of the curriculum that involve learning about humans, their behaviors and relationships, about how they relate to nature and the world. The most common social studies subject is history. However, the term is so broad that it also includes geography, civics and government, economics, culture, sociology, psychology, ecology, law, philosophy, political science, archaeology, and anthropology, and subsets or combinations of any of these.

Why is it important to teach social studies?

The goal of social studies is to teach students to be good citizens and to participate productively and rationally in society. 

According to the National Council for Social Studies, “The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.” 

In other words, the social studies enable students to think critically and independently about the world, to make sound decisions, to discover ways to contribute productively to society.

How might social studies change in the future?

Social studies teachers say that social studies are more relevant than ever as they involve societal participation, enhance critical and creative thinking, foster cultural sensitivity, broaden global perspective, and promote values formation. 

Notably, technology has been a ‘game-changer’ in teaching social studies, as students have virtually unlimited access to information, meaning teaching information literacy, data analysis, media literacy and technology literacy have become as important as traditional “wars-and-dates” learning. 

However, given the first sentence in this section, one might also conclude that social studies instruction has the potential to become controversial in a community, and indeed social studies has become a political lightning rod.

With so many subject-matter options, who decides what is taught?

In Texas, the Texas Education Agency oversees social studies curriculum by:
a. Assisting ISDs with implementation of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies;
b. Collaborating with the Division of Student Assessment to develop state social studies assessments;
c. Assisting the Instructional Materials and Educational Technology Division (IMET) in overseeing the textbook adoption process for K-12 social studies;
d. Reviewing state certifications related to Social Studies with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC); and
e. Providing on-going communication with the ISDs about current issues in social studies curriculum and policy interpretations related to graduation requirements in 19 TAC Chapter 74. (Adapted from: )

Thus, TEA oversees the outcomes, materials, teacher qualifications, and policy interpretations from the legislature. Individual school districts operate within these narrow boundaries.

What does this mean for any given school district?

Within the aforementioned boundaries set by the legislature and TEA, each district follows specific policy (see EF and EMD for many districts) guiding selection of instructional resources, balanced instruction free of personal bias and placing limitations on presentation of controversial issues.

Sadly, in the age of social media and citizen-outrage – whether real, disingenuous, politically motivated or and uninformed – social studies curriculum and instruction is under continual scrutiny. 

Examples of that scrutiny include critical race theory, wokeness, book censorship, historical accuracy, and even whether controversial issues can be discussed, and if they are discussed, what the parameters might be.

Teachers and students both are affected by these larger debates.


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