Maybe you're in a situation like what I've experienced, where social studies is not seen as a priority. I was teaching in one of the largest public school districts in my state, and yet we were not provided with a single resource, material, or curriculum for carrying out our state social studies standards.
In fact, my teacher colleagues held the mindset that they didn't need to teach social studies since the district didn't allocate time for the subject nor did they provide a curriculum. Denying students a high-quality social studies education becomes an issue of student equity.
The Marginalization of Social Studies
The Council of Chief State School Officers recently released data on the Marginalization of Social Studies. They found that “research consistently demonstrates that social studies receives the least amount of instructional time in the elementary grades when compared to the amount of time afforded to other core content areas.”
Sadly, this comes to me as no surprise.
Problematic Outdated Textbooks Need to Go
This issue is not just that our schools are not providing elementary educators with resources, but also that resources or textbooks which are provided are outdated, contain racial or ethnic bias, or are filled with historical inaccuracies.
I was recently in a 4th-grade classroom with textbooks that were 16 years old that used biased language and were completely outdated. I know for a fact that the same district has updated its math curriculum 3 times in the last 8 years. Yet, no one thinks twice about looking into updating social studies materials that are racially problematic.
An Issue of Student Equity
If you are teaching in a school with an outdated or no curriculum at all, talk to your principal about this problem. When teachers are lacking materials it becomes difficult to provide a high-quality social studies education. It also becomes an issue of student equity because students are denied an opportunity to succeed in college, career, and civic life. Ask your principal to set aside discretionary funds so that you can purchase resources for carrying out your state standards.
Advocate for Teacher Professional Development
When I was in college, I chose social studies as my major for my elementary education degree. When I met with my guidance counselor, I was questioned as to why I would even want to pursue social studies, since this specialization was not endorsed in my state. I was informed that there were plenty of other subjects that I should consider, and that pursuing social studies would lower my chances at qualifying for elementary teaching jobs. While my guidance counselor had good intentions, the problem is that this only further pushed social studies to the side. How many other teacher candidates like me wanted to pursue social studies, but second-guessed their decision and went with another subject. Maybe that's why I ended up being the only social studies major in my graduating class...
In talking with teacher friends across the country, some fellow teachers went through an entire education program in which they did not take single social studies methods course.
Advocate for social studies professional development. On-going professional development in social studies disciplines is so important. Districts are willing to send teachers out of state for reading and math conferences but are hesitant to spend the money for social studies PD, so a great starting place is your state or regional Council for the Social Studies. You will likely find affordable and local conferences or professional development opportunities, as well as resources that will align with your state standards.
If you are lacking materials and don't know where to begin, feel free to reach out. I'm happy to collaborate. Every state has different standards, however it is my pleasure to point teachers in the direction of resources, websites, and reputable information that align with your state standards. I host a Facebook Group for elementary teachers focused on social studies, and I'd love for you to join this community!
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