Chapter 6: The Study of Controversial Issues in Social Studies. Learning Topics Global Thinking and Local Sensitivity The Ethics of Critical Thinking Understanding Community Norms and Values Gender, Sexuality, Age, Race, and Disability in Social Studies
Global Thinking and Local Sensitivity
The Ethics of Critical Thinking
Understanding Community Norms and Values
Gender, Sexuality, Age, Race, and Disability in Social Studies
Teaching Social Justice and Social Action in the Primary and Junior Divisions
Character Education, Restorative Justice, and Values for Young Learners
Social Studies education was designed from the outset to get at these big issues of what it means to live together in a democracy, of working together to build a respectful and responsible community, of bringing together various cultures and peoples into a common whole, of giving the young the tools and insights to help create a better world. – Wanda Cassidy, 2004
Through the sensitive and age appropriate study of controversial issues, we can ensure that our students:
learn how to demonstrate care
understand their roles as global citizens
understand legal issues in global contexts
develop appropriate personal and social values
take appropriate and responsible action.
Citizenship education is central to creating a curriculum of caring in the discipline of Social Studies.
Case and Clark (1999) identify four purposes of citizenship education in our Social Studies programs.
Social Initiation – Teaching the understandings, abilities and values needed to fit into a productive society.
Social Reformation – Empowering students with the understandings, abilities, and values needed to improve their society.
Personal Development – Fostering personal competencies and interests in students so they develop fully as individuals and members of society.
Academic Understanding – Mastering the knowledge and processes (e.g., inquiry) of the Social Studies discipline as a form of organizer for making meaning of the world.
“…citizenship is a complicated idea, affected by many factors, including where a person finds his or her sense of belonging and the degree to which he or she is engaged in the civic culture.” ~ Sears, 2004
Once a course of action is determined to culminate a study, teachers will need to:
Critical thinkinginvolves habits of mind that cause a learner to systematically consider, analyze, question, investigate, and promote action in a productive, safe, and socially responsible manner.
Teachers can develop awareness of the norms and values of the school community by:
Social literacy is an appreciation for the values, norms, and laws of the society.
“…social literacy to me involves some appreciation of the legal system” ~ Justice Bora Laskin (1977)
Use these strategies to expose students to legal thinking:
The moot trial
“Law-related education is all about issues, about competing values, about what is paramount in society, about how people should be treated, about what is meant by the common good, about the relationship between minority and majority rights, about the kind of society people want to have and the challenges they face in getting there. Law-related education in social studies (legal topics, the law-related perspective, legal methodologies) can provide a natural vehicle whereby important citizenship attributes may be addressed and cultivated in students.” (Cassidy, 2004)
Texts can present distorted images of people and their contributions in each of these contexts, can create gaps in accuracy of the representations of each group, and can overdevelop a single perspective on an event or people to the exclusion of more balanced perspectives.
To address these tendencies in textbooks, teachers in Social Studies will need to:
1. be critical and reflective about the text, graphics, data, and photographs they encounter in texts to uncover distortions and omissions
2. use a variety of other sources to support the text
3. compare perspectives on the same issue or event from a variety of texts that offer differing perspectives.
(Adapted from Clark, 1999)
Instruction in the early primary grades is markedly different than the methodology for using sources that is possible during the junior grades.
Students’ ability to engage text is critical to their ability to analyze it.
In the early primary grades, teachers can model their critical questioning techniques as they examine text and provide many and frequent opportunities to have students examine primary artifacts and photographs for evidence.
Attitudes and aptitudes for tolerance, sensitivity, and inclusiveness are approaches that can be successfully modeled by teachers.
The concept of social justice springs from a global sense of fairness. When we consider the concept of social justice, this idea includes an understanding that:
the world’s population is increasing
many resources we have come to rely upon are limited
some nations use more resources per capita to support their lifestyle than is typical of other countries
poverty is a global issue.
Embedded in the concept of social justice is the concept of world peace.
Peace education can foster a sense of social justice through awareness of the differing realities that young children face in unstable countries around the world.
In studying the political conflicts in some countries, teachers will need to use sensitivity and professional discretion to select or develop informative activities that provide deep understanding, while balancing exposure so as not to create anxiety and emotional distress among students.
Teaching values through the school curriculum is:
(Adapted from Case, 1999)
We engage students in the study of controversial issues to help understand both the complexities and values inherent in different perspectives.
The study of controversial issues will lead help students to:
1. Develop greater sensitivity
2. Make informed decisions and judgments after consider all options and many relevant criteria for considering each option
3. Consider, and perhaps accommodate, alternative opinions
4. Process information rather than imposing an external view
5. Explore, clarify, and perhaps justify personal values
6. Appreciate the freedom of opinion that typifies Canadian society where cultural and political pluralism are valued and protected
Students can achieve a sense of empowerment if their social actions are consistent with their evolving values.
1. Using influence with those in power
2. Through distanced suggestions and resource supplying actions
3. Possibility that students may not see direct results of their actions
1. Directly solving the problem oneself
2. Personal contact with the plans, the problems, and the results of the chosen actions
3. See specific results of personal actions
Informed Decisions by Active Doers“…the desired role of a citizen is to know what is going on, be a part of it and do something about it.” ~ Chamberlin and Glassford, 1999
Insert we diagram here
Restorative justice can be a vibrant component of a values education aspect of the Social Studies program because it stresses what it means to be social. However, social justice initiatives in schools will be most effective when:
an offender accepts responsibility for his or her actions and agrees to participate in seeking a resolution
the offended party freely agrees to participate in the program, without feeling pressured to do so; and
teachers are trained in how to manage negotiation between parties
Another question in the Topic Elaboration inquiry scheme is “What are these changes related to?”
This question would lead students to engage in inquiry through correlation. Data about two or more events could be examined to determine trends.
This data could then be graphed to show the relationship between the events or phenomena.
Younger children can be taught correlation, using contexts that are based on experience and opinion rather than on researched data.
Being a citizen is distinctly different from demonstrating the skills required for citizenship.
The context of our classrooms can provide a model venue for citizenship education in a democracy.
The ultimate goal of citizenship education is to encourage responsible social action.
Teachers should consider some guidelines when examining their Social Studies programs for the possibility of including social action. These guidelines will help to ensure the success of classroom projects geared to social action.
As teachers we need to consider the ethics that underscore the critical thinking skills we teach.