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 Philosophy of Social Studies Education

                Social Studies teachers face a unique challenge in determining not only how to teach students, but also in determining what to teach students. The key to effective teaching is to recognize that different students learn in different ways, and therefore it is important to include many activities in the lesson to encompass auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners, as well as to challenge students at various levels. Students need to be able to engage in authentic activities that are challenging, value-based and meaningful. Moreover, students can benefit from activities that integrate a variety of different skills and subjects in order to receive a cross-disciplinary education. It is important for educational practices to evolve as society and its needs evolve; however, this does not mean that one should disregard traditional educational practices which are well-grounded in theory and in practice.

Learning occurs in a variety of ways, depending on the student and the topic. As a Secondary Social Studies teacher, I have found many different ways to teach to different types of learners.  For example, some students are visual learners, and benefit from visual aids such as worksheets, the Smart Board, posters, etc. Other students benefit from auditory cues, and learn a great deal by listening to a lecture, participating in a discussion, or even listening to an audio recording of the material being presented. Additionally, some students are kinesthetic learners, and need some sort of hands-on activity in order to maximize learning. Even though some students may tend towards one type of learning over another, it seems as though most students learn most effectively when the teacher uses a combination of these techniques.  By utilizing a variety of techniques in my lesson plans, I have effectively taught different types of learners and enhanced students’ learning experience. Teachers should encourage students to grow not only intellectually, but also socially, emotionally, and physically. This ties in with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, as students are encouraged to develop not only the “traditional” intelligences of reading, writing and math, but also areas like arts, music, spatial intelligence, and the other areas of intelligence identified by Gardner.

However, in addition to determining how to present the material, an important issue that Social Studies teachers face is what content to present to the students, within the framework of the standards and the school curriculum. Social Studies teachers are in a unique situation because in many cases, what we are teaching is not based on an absolute truth, but rather a reflection of what society views as the truth. For example, historical events are often taught in the context of society’s interpretation of what happened. As such, it is important for Social Studies teachers to help students lay the foundation for forming their own opinions. Change is the only social constant, and students need to be well-educated in order to understand how and why society interprets history and current events in a particular manner. Moreover, it is crucial for students to be able to see an issue from multiple perspectives, which is why critical thinking skills should be emphasized in every Social Studies classroom.

Teachers also need to help students understand why they are learning what they study in school. Gone are the days when rote memorization of facts constitutes a sufficient education. While it is important for students to have a clear grasp on facts such as names, dates, and events, students must also be able to think critically about the world, especially our country, and its history. As a Social Studies teacher, my job is to help students understand our history, culture, and government. However, students cannot become good citizens by simply memorizing facts; students need to be able to truly understand our culture and governmental institutions in order to actively engage in society and make education decisions, such as choosing a political candidate during an election. A foundation of knowledge, plus the ability to critically examine issues, will prepare students to become better citizens.

Because the world in which we live is changing, the way that we teach our students must also change. Teachers need to present material to students in a variety of manners in order to challenge them and help them grow. In addition, Social Studies teachers should focus their teaching on developing students’ critical thinking skills, rather than their ability to memorize facts. Teachers must keep in mind that the goal of educating students is not only to teach them about the past, but also to help them become responsible citizens in the present and the future.

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