The Subject of Social Studies

10 Central Themes in Elementary School Programs

Children Looking at Globe
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Science, math, language arts, and social studies are the core classes for elementary school students. Of these four subjects, social studies is probably the most misunderstood. Many people construe it mean to geography and history, but it is actually much more than that.

In 2010, the National Council for the Social Studies, a Maryland-based association founded in 1921, issued an updated framework for teaching which reinforces the 10 themes that comprise an effective social studies program:

Culture

The study of culture involves the examination of the beliefs, values, behaviors, and languages of different groups, both contemporary and historical. Students will not only compare groups cross-culturally but examine how they adapt and assimilate their beliefs. This social studies theme incorporates history, anthropology, geography, and sociology.

Time, Continuity, and Change

The study of time, continuity, and change involves the evaluation of how certain events change the human experience over time. Students will explore how history has shaped the social, economic, and political environment of a specific era and how those changes gave rise to the current environment.

People, Place, and Environment

The study of people, place, and environment involves an examination of how climate patterns, geography, and natural resources shape society. It looks at how these fixed or changing forces impact everything from immigration and laws to economics and trade policies.

Individual Development and Identity

The study of individual development and identity examines how personal identity is shaped by the social norms and institutions a person is exposed to. It incorporates psychology, sociology, and anthropology and looks at the diverse ways in which people respond to those influences.

Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

The study of individuals, groups, and institutions evaluates how social, religious, and political institutions form the belief systems of its members. It conversely examines how those institutions may be influenced by changes in social attitudes, communications, and events.

Power, Authority, and Governance

The study of power, authority, and governance refers to how governments interpret and enforce laws. It examines all aspects of civic competence and the way in which the rights of its citizen can either be protected or subverted.

Production, Distribution, and Consumption

The study of production, distribution, and consumption involves the exploration of how trade and exchange systems influence the value and consumption of goods. It also highlights how changes in resources can affect economic policy or spur the investment in technology and innovation.

Science, Technology, and Society

The study of science, technology, and society examines how scientific or technological breakthroughs alter the behaviors and attitudes of a culture. Among other things, it traces how increasing globalization has impacted (and continues to impact) politics, culture, language, law, economics, and even religion.

Global Connections

The study of global connections explores the way in which information has been disseminated to the public over the course of generations. It not only examines how the increased access to information reshapes social and political norms but how it can alter the way in which people consume, distill, or distort information.

Civic Ideals and Practices

The study of civic ideals and practices explores the ways in which government can either incentivize or disincentivize the participation of its people in civic society. This includes, among other things, the active participation in voting and the acceptance of free speech as part of a representational democracy.

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Article Sources
  • National Council for Social Studies. (2011) National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. Silver Spring, Maryland: National Council for the Social Studies. ISBN-13: 978-0879861056.