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A4 | Informed Action: Agency, Advocacy, Activism

Social studies is learning, doing, being, growing, and acting.  The questions we pose, the inquiries we pursue lead us: to a deeper understanding of ourselves and others, to appreciate the complexity of the world in which we live, to grapple with difficult topics, and to speak out against systemic injustices. The study of social studies enables us to not only have a voice, but to actively engage in our local, national, and international communities as informed, educated, and compassionate citizens. Our collective civic engagement is not simply about advocacy or action, but also about listening, questioning, respectful dialogue, and seeking common ground around shared democratic values.  Social studies teaches us that knowledge is not neutral; it is socially constructed.  Thus, the real value of knowledge is what one can do with that knowledge in pursuit of inquiry.  Examining how we communicate and act upon our knowledge compels us to realize the importance of critical inquiry.  In fact, critical inquiry is at the heart of social studies and in practice is informed action through agency, advocacy, and activism.  


Subimt a Presentation Proposal

National Council for the Social Studies amplifies our collective voice as social studies educators through personal connection, collaboration and a shared mission to improve the teaching and learning of social studies at all levels.  Through our collective discourse about social studies at the annual conference, we compel each other to build the knowledge and capacities of students to engage in critical inquiry.  As deliberate social studies educators we prepare all students through high quality social studies instruction to be educated and inspired for lifelong, critical inquiry, and to engage in informed, thoughtful action. Our shared aim is to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions for participatory citizenship in American democracy and our interdependent, global society.  To achieve these aims, educators thrive with opportunities to interact with other professionals, to exchange ideas around high-leverage practices in the field, to learn research-informed strategies and practices, and to build a professional network of likeminded colleagues. When creating your conference proposal for the 2019 NCSS A4 Conference in Austin, TX, consider how your proposal addresses one more of the conference themes: Informed Action, Agency, Advocacy, Activism, and Geography/Geographic Inquiry.  

Conference Themes

Informed Action

Informed action is what good citizens do. Citizenship education, the primary purpose of social studies, is about transforming and engaging. Our notions of citizens and citizenship define how we question, gather evidence, deliberate, learn, interact with others, recognize and respond to issues, formulate conclusions and use this information to act. In today’s information rich culture, being informed is more than being knowledgeable, it is about the ways we create knowledge through critical inquiry and what we do with that knowledge in pursuit of inquiry. Consider these questions: What are our notions of citizenship and are these inclusive?  How do these notions compel informed action? What action results from our good work in developing good citizens? What comes of it as citizens? How do people talk about social studies topics, such as citizenship, democracy, capitalism, debt, immigration, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality  environmental issues, and use of public and private spaces?  How do we come together to talk about the many ways we talk about these and other social studies topics? How do we act on this knowledge as informed citizens? Social studies education is about preparing enlightened citizens who realize their capacity to take action in educated, compassionate, and compelling ways. It is a journey and critical inquiry maps students’ paths to informed action.  Proposals in this area might focus on how we, as social studies educators, teach, empower, and engage students in informed action. Submit a Proposal


Informed action begins with examination of personal identity, culture, and one’s place in the world.  Expanding beyond positionality, informed action relies on a recognition that we can enact change. History, geography, political science and economics does not just happen. Therefore, social studies is the study of decision-making, choices, outcomes and change within diverse contexts and spaces.  It teaches students to reflect on themselves as agentic, to realize they are capable of change, and that being good citizens means moving toward change. Moreover, social studies teaches that change is fueled by the questions we ask and having a mind for questioning is a high-leverage thinking skill.  Defining agency as the capacity, condition, action, and exercise of power, citizens must realize their dual role as producers and products of social systems. Agentic people are self-organizing, proactive, self-reflecting and self-regulated. Having agency is exercising one’s voice in educated and informed ways, aligning with others, seeking to create a more inclusive and compassionate society, and acting with intentionality and forethought.  Proposals aligned with this sub-theme highlight the content and pedagogical practices that teach students to value informed understanding and decision-making, to realize their capacities for change, and to see themselves as agents of change. Proposals might also examine ways in which we convey knowledge and agency through curriculum and instruction. Submit a Proposal


Equal access to life-sustaining resources, such as health, education, food, employment, a clean environment, legal protection from discrimination, economic opportunity, and democratic participation is vital if society and its individuals are to thrive.  More than ever the world needs effective leaders who are prepared to engage with the complex social, economic, political, historic and geographic challenges that impact our communities, institutions, society, health and environment.  The forethought and intentionality of informed action also requires us to consider for whom we are acting. Social studies leaders plead the cause of another, advocate for those who are underrepresented and vulnerable to exploitation, and speak out for the voiceless and marginalized.  Social studies advocacy seeks to ensure that people, particularly the most vulnerable in society, are able to have their voices heard on issues that are important to them, to defend and safeguard their rights, and have their ideas genuinely considered when decisions are being made about their lives.  As we act on behalf of others, we also have to examine the principles we want to lift up through our informed action.  We must ask questions such as: What notions of democracy are important?  What values do we want to center?  Who is important and why?  For example, to advocate for economic change we need to understand who benefits from our current shaping and framing of economic institutions as well as our economic decisions. Advocacy also leads to questions like: Are we a nation that does afford all people access to a fair and equitable capitalist system? Why might people feel capitalism has failed to live up to its promises? As a process, advocacy through critical inquiry in social studies teaches students how to eloquently express views and concerns, draw upon research and evidence to present sound arguments, access information and resources to explore choices and options, and effectively defend and promote rights and responsibilities.  Proposals in this area might focus on either the process of advocacy instruction or the role of students as advocates.  Submit a Proposal


Social studies education and youth empowerment enable students to organize sustained, collective efforts to promote change through awareness campaigns and social movements.  Young people have been at the forefront of most major social movements in American life. They have brought earnest energy and commitment to political struggles that led to large-scale change, such as the American Civil Rights Movement.  Courageous young people throughout history have yelled so loud that it turned the country and the world upside down.  Activists today lead marches to call for the protection of children from school violence, challenge the right to an equitable education through our judicial system, advocate for human rights and environmentally conscious decision-making, and demand access promised by the Constitution to civic education and citizenship preparation.  When we consider the role of activism in social studies, we seek to understand the aims of our informed action. We ask: For what purpose do we engage in informed action?  Acknowledging that all action is driven by purpose, social studies teaches students to exercise the forethought and intentionality of informed action. Activism is a mainstay of contemporary society—protest has been and continues to be form for exercising agency and advocacy.  However, for  today’s young activists, social media has become a key conduit of unity and form of expression of collective ideas, accurate or not.  Social studies knowledge and capacity through critical inquiry enables students to examine activism as an exercise of power, an embodiment of conflicting narratives around difficult topics, and a form of discourse about unresolved issues facing our society, nation and world.  Proposals in this area might focus on student activism, the role of critical inquiry in activism, the ways in which social media influences perceptions and movements, and how activism has and continues to be a tool for promoting change around social studies topics. Submit a Proposal

Geography and Geographic Inquiry

Geographic inquiry is a way to view the world and understand our place and impact on it.  Geography seeks to understand where things are and how and why they got there by studying the connections and interactions among people, places and environments.  Geography education engages students in global events and processes, giving them tools to become effective citizens and decision makers. To do this, geography draws upon and integrates knowledge of many different social studies disciplines. Geography is the wonderful integrator and intersection of history, the physical sciences, world cultures, economics, and other social sciences. NCGE is emphasizing the integration of geography and geographic tools into other disciplines.  We want to show how teachers of social studies and social sciences such as state, U.S. and World History, Economics, and Civics can use geography to help their students better understand current situations and events.  Every teacher attending a session will walk away with an activity, lesson plan, resource or strategy that will be useful in teaching his or her students. Presentations with audience interaction, discussions, and interdisciplinary integration are encouraged. Submit a Proposal



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