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What Do Social Studies Teachers Really Think?

Memorizing Facts, Dates Still Has an Important Place

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Most high school social studies teachers believe it is important to teach students to “respect and appreciate their country,” but also to “know its shortcomings,” according to a study based on a national teacher survey.

A report on the findings, released late last month by the American Enterprise Institute, also says that the public school teachers polled generally lack confidence that their students are learning what they are expected to learn, and that a majority believe that social studies is not treated as “an absolutely essential subject area.”

The study was based on a national, randomized survey of 866 social studies teachers in public schools, and an oversampling of 245 in Catholic and private schools, as well as focus groups with teachers.

Some of the findings for public school social studies teachers:

• 83 percent believe the United States is “a unique country that stands for something special in the world,” while 11 percent see it as “just another country” that is no better or worse than others;

• 82 percent say it is important for high school students to “respect and appreciate their country but know its shortcomings”;

• 77 percent say memorizing facts and dates “still has an important place” in the curriculum; and

• 78 percent say social studies should be part of every state’s standards and testing system.

Asked which of 12 items was most essential for high school students to learn, the most common answer was “identify the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.” Asked to assess five priorities high schools may have around teaching citizenship, the teachers rated knowing specific facts and dates lowest.

In general, the study found that the attitudes of public school teachers and private school teachers were similar regarding what they believe it means to be an American and what students should learn about citizenship. But they differed significantly in their day-to-day experiences. For example, two-thirds of private school teachers said social studies is an absolutely essential subject in their schools, compared with 45 percent for public school teachers.

Vol. 30, Issue 07, Page 5

Published in Print: October 13, 2010, as Study Asks What Social Studies Teachers in U.S. Really Think
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