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The Second Century of Social Studies

It started to dawn on me this week that we are entering the second full century of social studies education as we know it.  Of course, there was not a specific date in which a formal resolution declared, “….there shall be a new subject called social studies taught in every classroom and in every grade level throughout the United States.”  History is seldom that neat and tidy.  An article titled “Social Studies and the Birth of NCSS: 1783-1921”, published in a special 1995 edition of Social Education to commemorate NCSS’ 75th anniversary, provides a narrative on the growth of social studies as its own discipline over time.  Did you know the term social studies has roots tracing back to early 19th century Europe?  Did you know that several reports were commissioned by scholars over a few decades beginning in the late 19th century to establish a role in our classrooms for the distinct subjects that now make up social studies?  

One of the turning points in social studies education’s time line is the founding of our very own organization in 1921.  As our Social Education article explains, this moment was part of a process in which leadership and advocacy for social studies transitioned from the specialists and scholars within different social science disciplines to specialists and scholars in the field of education itself.

As we approach the second full century of social studies education and the nation’s largest social studies professional association, we are in a good position to ask ourselves a few critical questions:

  • What should the goals and outcomes of social studies education be in its second century?
  • What do our students most need from the social studies to assume the role of active, responsible citizens and participants in our world?
  • What do our educators most need to provide the highest quality social studies learning for the students in their care?
  • What can our communities do to support the social studies for every learner?

Over our first century, NCSS has grown to define social studies as "the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence."  With an approaching centennial and a new Strategic Plan to guide us, our organization is ready to come together with all who are passionate about education to define a future for the social studies.  

Note: Ben A. Smith, J. Jesse Palmer and Stephen T. Correia, "Social Studies and the Birth of NCSS, 1783-1921." Social Education 59, no. 7 (1995): 393-398.