Social Education 57(2), 1993, pp. 60-60
1993 National Council for the Social Studies

A Guide for Redefining Social Studies

Michael Hartoonian
Social Studies, within the K-12 school program, is the umbrella classification for the study of the integrated and single disciplines of anthropology, economics, geography, history, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, as well as appropriate content from the humanities, mathematics, and the natural sciences applied to the primary goal of education in the United States of America-to promote the public good by preparing all young people for full participation in the civic, economic, and cultural life of a complex, interdependent world.
Throughout our society there is a sense that schools have lost their internal compass, their direction, their reason for being. For all our talk about reform, we are still seen as defenders of the status quo. This is not difficult to understand because during the past century and a half, the underlying organizational and pedagogical features of schools in the United States have remained relatively fixed while the fabric of our society, the needs of people, and the nature of many institutions have undergone fundamental changes. Demographic and statistical data speak clearly to the changing nature of our families, the reconceptualization of work, the distribution of justice and poverty, the conditions of illiteracy, and the age, class, and ethnic makeup of our citizens. Given these realities, it is necessary that we, as social studies educators, create a new vision and definition for our work to motivate us toward an idealism that extends the promise of full scholarship and citizenship to each and every person in the United States. The central focus of this work is the design and implementation of social studies as a liberating force in the lives of all citizens. That is, our work should illuminate the essential connection between social studies learning and democratic values. This connection is manifested most clearly when we adopt a common purpose in service to the highest of human goals-when we learn to live beyond social fragmentation and personal separation by embracing the shared knowledge of our past and dreams of our future. We struggle together against those elements that deny to any of us the promise of a full civic, economic, and cultural life. To liberate the spirit, the mind, and the (everyday) lives of people, we need to conceive and construct social studies upon the exponent of freedom. The regeneration of individual freedom through what and how we learn is the essence of quality and meaning for students and provides the value-added dimension of social studies to their lives.
Historically, we have realized unevenly the ideal of the essential worth of the individual. Today, however, we no longer can afford to exclude anyone from full membership in society. We must equip every student, regardless of background, to interact intelligently and constructively with the natural and social environments. Whether or not our students share a particular culture, they must be able to use our common intellectual resources to participate productively in our economy, to exert intellectual and political leadership, and to exercise their responsibilities as active participants in a democratic society. These abilities need to transcend a particular time such as formal schooling or a special place such as school; they must be lifelong habits of reflective thought and quality action, and be expressed in our own (educators') thoughts and actions. This value-added dimension of learning will help every race, social class, and linguistic community meet both the challenges we face today and what lies ahead in the unforeseeable and unknowable future.

To achieve such a vision of value-added social studies we must allow our students to become intimately acquainted with scholarship, artisanship, leadership, and citizenship. These mutually inclusive attributes are the hallmarks of a social studies program-where students will gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes to understand, respect, and practice the ways of the scholar, the artisan, the leader, and the citizen. For us, the notion that social studies is the core of a liberating education is inextricably tied to values held in the United States, the most important of which is the essential connection between learning and freedom. Democracy and democratic-republic ideals are based upon the notion that people will understand and act on three fundamental principles. First, that the quality of an individual's life is tied directly to the quality of the life of the whole community. We are a part of the commons. Enlightened self-interest, however, must be learned, because on the surface it seems illogical. "We are in this together" or "everything is connected" are messages from the past that have their contemporary echo in mathematics, quantum mechanics, economics, religion, geography, and other ways of knowing. Social studies must make these relationships clear to all students. Second, that the quality of people's lives depends upon the creative and loving criticism that individuals can construct of their social institutions. Knowledge of the interrelationships and creative tensions among the social, individual, and biological dimensions of life is necessary for democratic citizenship. We must learn how to judge ourselves, our institutions, and our environment with insight and care for the future. Third, that the quality of our lives can improve only as we create and nurture a reservoir of virtue within us that will allow these judgments of our personal and collective behaviors to be taken seriously. These principles are necessary for a people to be free within a state of civilization, and these principles must be learned. This is the purpose of social studies, to learn of and address the ethical relationships among personal habits, social institutions, and natural contexts, so that the hazards and promises of life in our communities can be illuminated and acted upon.

If we as social studies educators can help students learn about and address the relationships, tensions, and hazards inherent in our republic, then social studies will be placed in a rightful position as the core of learning for democratic citizens. This is the case because social studies is in a better position than any other part of the curriculum to address both the principles suggested above and the attending hazards of our society. The list of social hazards is quite long, but as an example of the work that needs to be done, consider: the punitive expression of the doctrine of law and order, the faith in bureaucratic or collective planning and action that quietly separates citizens from their responsibilities, the theory of privilege and the privileging of group identity that robs from us the wealth of human abilities not identified within those groups-those groups with the "right" characteristics. We can add to this list the triumph of narrow tradition over the ideal of an adventurous individual, and the disrespect for public discourse. If we cannot demonstrate the close links between social studies education and democracy, as suggested above, these hazards and tensions will destroy not only learning but the republic with it. This destruction, many would argue, has already begun.

Can we reclaim and reconstruct that particular and persistent principle of "one people out of many"? That is, can we come to understand the precious relationship between freedom, knowing, and action? What are the qualities inherent in a U.S. citizen? In what do we believe? What is expected of us? What do we know about ourselves and the world? Who and what do we love?

To address these questions we must rapidly, yet carefully, investigate the notion that diversity is what defines unity. You and I equals us. Within the democratic ideal of e pluribus unum, however, us also equals, and means, community. Within this context of community we undertake the privilege of teaching and learning with civility, discipline, and love, always aware that our path will be fraught with danger. And, within this same context our will and our ability to approach, for ourselves and for our students, a better model of our better selves, both individually and collectively, will ultimately define the community we call social studies. The republic demands no less from us; we must demand at least as much.

Michael Hartoonian is Supervisor of Social Studies for the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Adjunct Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 53702.

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