Thursday, September 30th, 2010
High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship
What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do
By Gary J. Schmitt, Frederick M. Hess, Steve Farkas, Ann M. Duffett, Cheryl Miller, Jenna M. Schuette
(September 29, 2010)
“History is who we are and why we are the way we are,” said David McCullough, perhaps America’s most celebrated popular historian. From a nation’s history, to its economic structure, politics, and constitutional order, a teacher can inspire appreciation or revulsion, mindless conformism or gratuitous agitation, boredom or wonder. Social studies teachers are uniquely positioned to frame and inform students’ outlook about the nation, to tell the story of who we are.
This study revolves around an essential question: what are teachers trying to teach our youth about citizenship and what it means to be an American? The findings are based on a national, random sample survey of 866 public high school social studies teachers, an oversample survey of 245 Catholic and private high school social studies teachers, and three focus groups. Social studies teachers are excellent sources of information for this type of research. They are in the trenches, and they can report not only on their own attitudes, priorities, and behaviors, but also on what is actually happening in high schools and school districts.
Here is what we learned:
Teacher attitudes and values appear to be in step with those of ordinary Americans writ large.
Teachers may be setting too low a bar for what they expect students to know about American history and government.
Teachers are not confident that students are learning.
Social studies teachers believe their subject area is not viewed as a top priority–and testing is partly to blame.
Public and private school teachers share remarkably similar views when it comes to what it means to be an American and what students should learn about citizenship…
. . . but they differ enormously in their day-to-day experiences and their assessment of school atmosphere.