Social studies education should prepare students not just for college and careers, but for life—particularly, civic life. All students deserve to leave high school with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that enable them to effectively do things like serving on juries, deciphering the platforms of political candidates, spotting fake news, and engaging in problem-solving and informed action to better their own communities.
Perhaps now, more than ever, the experiences in social studies classrooms need to focus on building the critical thinking, problem-solving, and participatory skills vital to engaged citizenship. Thankfully, after years of marginalization of the social studies and the narrowing of the curriculum as a response to the demands of high-stakes testing, there is an emerging emphasis on shifting toward this type of powerful social studies education.
We’re on the brink of a “Golden Age” in education. To get there, teachers must master these three indispensable competencies.
Earlier this year, Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote that if schools zeroed in on high-leverage classroom practices, we could be on the cusp of a “golden age” of education (2019). He’s right. But for this to happen, we must first acknowledge “the awful inertia of decades”: our long drift into inferior instructional practices that now dominate the school day (Fullan, 2010). Then we must address its root cause: our equally unfocused preservice and professional training. If our schools are to enter an “era of unprecedented effectiveness” (Marzano, 2003), then teacher development must (1) end its addiction to novelty and embrace evidence-based priority, and (2) make practical, demonstrated mastery of best practices its urgent and explicit goal.The opportunity for immense, immediate progress becomes clear when we take an unblinking look at what goes on in average classrooms. Brace yourself.