Social studies are a K-12 curricula in which students learn about, discuss and analyze society. "Society" in this case includes the international, national and local community. Social studies is an interdisciplinary subject, incorporating geography, literacy, history, government and current affairs, among other disciplines. It is a crucial part of education in that it teaches students how to be well-informed, critically thinking citizens of their world.
Social studies educators are responsible for teaching geography along with history, current events and culture. Reading and understanding maps, defining various landforms and memorizing place names are all skills that must be taught, preferably from an early age. On statewide and nationwide tests, students will be required to know continents, countries and capital cities. A solid knowledge of geography is the basic foundation for a social studies education to give students a view of their physical world.
History plays a large role in social studies. Students are required to learn about the past in order to provide them with a context for today's society and current events. Learning about the past allows students to analyze the trajectory of human and societal evolution and to discuss its impact on current and future affairs. History lessons also provide students with valuable role models, such as Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt and Cesar Chavez . As adult citizens, students will be expected to know the history of their country and of the world and to participate accordingly in analysis of current events. This crucial education begins with social studies.
Social studies provide space in the school day for the discussion of critical current events. Students learn about the workings of their own government and those of other countries. Teachers can often connect this to students' lives by discussing events that affect their world. Students can hold mock presidential elections for all ages or discuss immigration laws in junior high and high school. Participating in educator-led discussions within the classroom teaches students how to synthesize and analyze information and debate opinions with civility.
Analysis is the highest level of social studies. Discussions of history and current events can lead to in-depth discussions on race, class and gender in society. Such analysis gives students a space in which to discuss the mechanisms of equality or inequality within our social systems, using history and current affairs as their contexts. Through such discussion and analysis, students learn to see issues from different perspectives, weigh opinions and think critically.
Social studies is important because it combines many different disciplines into a single subject. Lessons provide ample opportunities for reading aloud, shared reading and independent reading. There are also many opportunities for writing assignments on social studies topics. Studies of maps and geography tie in math and science. It is also possible to collaborate with other disciplines; teachers may incorporate an art project into their curriculum, allow students to study and listen to music from the past as part of their history lessons or play a game from another culture to include physical education. Using so many different types of approaches gives students with various strengths the opportunities to succeed.
Perhaps the most important lessons social studies teach are understanding, compassion and tolerance for people across the world. Social studies classes and assignments often focus on learning about people in other countries. This is meant to expand students' worlds, which may previously have included only their homes, school, and town or city, to encompass a national and international community. Social studies also focus on differences and similarities between people, helping students learn to get along within their immediate community. Because social studies focus primarily on human interactions, they teach students how to act responsibly and compassionately within society.
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