The Emergence of aDiverse, Caring Community:Next Steps in Responsive Curriculum Design for Elementary Social Studies

by Gloria Alter
How often are teachers and students encouraged to listen to their consciences? To be concerned with moral education? To take stands on issues of diversity? In spite of the nation's need for strong communities-and the wealth of information available concerning diversity, a caring community, and moral and democratic education-these concerns are still marginalized or nonexistent in the typical elementary curriculum. What if we were to change the curriculum at its center? What if we were to make caring communities the focus of elementary social studies? Perhaps then students would be exposed to these issues early and often in their schooling. Perhaps students would become more highly developed morally, socially, and politically, and would take on activities in the community that make a difference in the lives of others.

This article will explore the implications of a textbook study by the author1 that suggests how the NCSS Standards can be used to reconceptualize the curriculum so that it adequately addresses issues related to moral, multicultural, and democratic education.

The Vision of a Diverse, Caring Community
A curriculum focused on a diverse, caring community incorporates multicultural and moral as well as democratic education (see Figure 1). Both cultural transmission and transformation are involved in the educational process, as an emphasis on community is maintained and membership in the community is extended to include the marginalized. Critical thinking, critical pedagogy, and values development enable this cultural transmission and the transformation of individuals and systems delineated in the standards' themes.
Figure 1
Foundations of a Diverse, Caring Community
Cultural Vision:Diverse, Caring, Community
Cultural Processes:Cultural Transmission and Transformation of
Individuals and Systems
Educational Focus: Diversity [Multicultural Education]
Caring Community [Moral Education]
Citizenship [Democratic Education]
Educational Processes:Critical Thinking
Critical Pedagogy
Values Development
The process of making informed and reasoned decisions, central to social studies, includes analyzing the extent to which existing cultural assumptions and beliefs are at odds with democratic education and community. The foundations of critical pedagogy and critical multiculturalism encourage this analysis, and at the same time reflect "a common vision of democratic hope."2

The NCSS Standards and Curriculum Organization
The NCSS Standards could support a multitude of curriculum visions, but they return repeatedly to the concepts of culture, diversity, and democracy. A common moral center is identified: "Our responsibility is to respect and support the dignity of the individual, the health of the community, and the common good of alquot; (emphasis mine).3 In addition, the definition of social studies addresses citizenship in the context of culture, diversity, democracy, and citizen action. 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 an interdependent world (emphasis mine).4 A vision of a diverse, caring community builds on the traditional strengths of the "expanding community" structure, while providing for citizenship needs of the future. The conceptual organizer, the idea of a "diverse, caring community," uses sociology as its central discipline, replacing geographic expansion as the curriculum focus (see Figure 2). Each grade level of this curriculum design highlights socio-cultural aspects of society, addressing the "individual," "group," and "society" in a natural and repeated progression.

For example, the scope and sequence addresses "human diversity" (K-1), "belonging" (grade 2), and "human needs in community" (grade 3). The cycle moves from the individual to the group and then to society. At grade levels 4 to 6, the curriculum again addresses the unit of the individual in "diversity in the nation" (grade 4); the unit of the group in "the struggle for democracy" (grade 5); and the unit of society in "image and reality" (grade 6).

Figure 2
A Diverse, Caring Community: A Reconstructed Elementary Social Studies Scope and Sequence
K-1: "human diversity"-characteristics of humanity; who we are and what our differences are; what we need; caring and sharing; working with others.
2: "belonging"-characteristics of family and other groups, subgroups, institutions, and places within which the traditional functions of the family are carried out; our own families and the things we do with others.
3: "human needs in community"-how the local, national, and global communities function to meet human needs.
4: "diversity in the nation"-how we differ across more than regional lines (e.g., religion, gender, culture) in the larger context of an international/global reality.
5: "the struggle for democracy"-what democracy is and how laws and the history of the nation reveal the nature of authentic democracy.
6: "image and reality"-of individuals, institutions and their development; media literacy and cultural transmission/transformation.
Central to the scope and sequence at every level are the concept of diversity and a commitment to the common good. Overall, it reflects what James Banks calls the "transformative curriculum," helping students to know, to care, and to act in ways that will develop and foster a democratic and just society in which all groups experience cultural democracy and cultural empowerment.5

This curriculum plan maintains enough of the traditional pattern of expanding communities to meet state curriculum requirements. It also easily incorporates the NCSS Standards' performance expectations and objectives, as illustrated in the Pull-out in this issue. The NCSS performance expectations, intended to be an irreducible minimum, allow for both additions from the disciplinary standards and those required by a particular curricular plan or vision. This application of the NCSS Standards thus provides an impetus for change and a renewed commitment to a healthy democratic community-a community that supports difference, encourages self and cultural awareness and dialogue, and welcomes challenges.

A Framework for Instructional Planning
The NCSS Standards emphasize both the centrality of civic competence in social studies education (i.e., citizenship knowledge, skills, attitudes, and action, as described in Figure 3), and the need for academic, personal, pluralistic, and global perspectives to be addressed across the curriculum. Civic competence is ultimately directed toward the common good, which might be considered another perspective because of its importance in the overall curriculum.
Civic competence is not only the overarching goal of social studies, but is embodied in NCSS Standard Theme 0 Civic Ideals and Practice. In addition, Theme 8 (Global Perspectives), Theme 9 (Science, Technology, and Society), and Theme 0 are all integrative themes that cross the social science disciplines. Taken together with the first seven themes, which represent particular disciplines, all ten themes are designed to address real world issues. While content related to the issues may extend beyond the standards, each theme maintains a focus on the human systems (i.e., economic, political, social) necessary for the development of a diverse, caring community.

Figure 4 contains a rubric for curriculum and instructional planning by Savage and Armstrong6 revised to include citizenship action and to address the perspectives represented by the NCSS standards. Here, "civic perspectives" refers to the common good.

Unit topics or larger curriculum components, such as year-long plans, may be considered using this rubric. Objectives from one or more NCSS themes are identified in each area of the rubric, which may be used to develop a plan that addresses both important overall perspectives (top) and goals of civic competence (left). The rubric may also be used in conjunction with the grade-level performance objectives delineated in the pull-out.

Figure 3
Social Studies Goals

Citizenship Knowledge

Citizen Skills

Citizen Attitudes

Citizen Actions

M. MacFarland, "President's Message: Are We Mending Walls or Exploring New Territory?, The Social Studies Professional Jan.-Feb. (1990): 2-3.
Figure 4
Goal Setting Framework Reflecting the Social Studies Standards Perspectives
Perspective & Goals

Teachers' philosophies and beliefs about social studies education affect the degree to which they emphasize such goals as social action or values development in the classroom. However, whether or not teachers provide instruction in values and social action directly, they are communicating a position about these matters. Teachers' perspectives, values, beliefs, and behaviors are part of the moral act of teaching. The omission of critical issues can imply that there is no need to address these issues, and that existing perspectives need not be questioned. Likewise, when alternative points of view are not recognized, studied, or discovered, they appear to be nonexistent or of no significance.

The scope and sequence plan for a diverse, caring community can help to ensure that the vision of the common good be developed as much as possible through the elementary social studies curriculum. In addition, the framework for instructional planning reminds teachers of the dimensions of civic competence and the perspectives of social education that are critical to quality social studies education.

The curriculum is best developed cooperatively with those implementing it and those affected by it (e.g., teachers, parents, community groups). Continuing collaboration provides support for innovation, natural connections for parent and community involvement, and more representative curriculum content. Teacher education, likewise, should respond to community needs and include planning projects cooperatively with community members in order to develop teachers who respect diversity and are "culturally sensitive, compassionate, and morally responsible."7

1.Gloria Alter, "Transforming Elementary Social Studies: The Emergence of a Curriculum Focused on Diverse, Caring Communities," Theory and Research in Social Education 23, 4 (1995): 355-374.
2. B. Kanpol and P. McLaren (eds.), Critical Multiculturalism, Uncommon Voices in a Common Struggle (Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1995).
3.National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for the Social Studies (Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1994), 6.
4.Ibid., 3.
5.James A. Banks, An Introduction to Multicultural Education (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1994).
6.T. V. Savage and D. G. Armstrong, Effective Teaching in Elementary Social Studies, 3rd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996).
7.K. M. Zeichner, "Preparing Teachers for Democratic Schools," Action in Teacher Education, 9, 1 (1989): 5-10.

About the Author
Gloria Alter is an assistant professor of education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Northern Illinois University. She has a recently published article about social studies reform in Theory and Research in Social Education, and continues her research in this area.