The National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) defines social studies as “the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence.” The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in the interdependent world.
Teaching social studies involves more than conveying essential facts, though building a knowledge base is important in teaching the subject. The teaching of social studies also is intended to build skills, shape attitudes, and encourage civic participation. According to the NCSS, the skills that must be cultivated include acquiring information and manipulating data, developing and presenting policies, arguments, and stories; constructing new knowledge; and participating in groups.
Civic participation is perhaps the most critical aspect of teaching social studies and its most worthy objective. Civic engagement addresses how problems and issues are dealt with in a community at large. It is critical to teach students about fundamental rights, basic freedoms, and the difficult decisions citizens face. In this sense, it is important to construe citizenship broadly – not just as learning about the right to vote. Over the years, though educational trends have influenced the shape and direction of the social studies curriculum, what remains is the necessity of teaching children and young people to be engaged members of society.