Notes on Research and Practice

Did the Social Studies Really Replace History in American Secondary Schools?

Tom Fallace
William Patterson University

Fallace, T. (2008). Did the Social Studies Really Replace History in American Secondary Schools? Teachers College Record, 110(10), 2245-70.

The writer challenges several assertions pertaining to the transition from history to the teaching of social studies in secondary schools in the U.S. He focuses his arguments on the following assumptions: that professional historians dominated the public school curriculum in the 1900s and 1910s, that “educationists” who authored the 1916 Committee on the Social Studies assumed control, that the report recommended social studies courses integrating history and the social sciences to address current events and problems, and that these integrated social studies courses supplanted “straight” history in most schools during the 1920s and 1930s. The writer examined internal and external factors that contributed to the shift, including teacher qualifications, textbook content, and the impact of World War I. He contends that the transition at the secondary level was not sudden and that the social studies reform movement did not directly aim at discipline-based history.

Research on Social Studies


Linda Levstik
University of Kentucky

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at the sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
Zora Neale Hurston1

Handbooks of research delineate what we know (or think we know) about a field.  They also suggest opportunities to deepen existing theoretical and empirical work, call attention to gaps in the literature from important questions that remain unexplored or fields just getting off the ground to once-vigorous areas of inquiry with little current activity.  As editors, Cynthia Tyson and I hope the 2008 Handbook of Research on Social Studies encourages researchers to fill in the gaps, expand on existing knowledge, and continue to build a rigorous empirical base for teaching and learning in the social studies.  To that end, a few points of departure. . .

Elementary Social Studies. Elementary social studies remains the perpetual scholarly stepchild. In recent years, work investigating primary children’s thinking in regard to cultural universals and the status of elementary social studies suggests a resurgence of research interest in elementary social studies—just as it appears to be disappearing from the elementary curriculum almost entirely (see Brophy & Alleman, Handbook; Levstik, Handbook) 2
Important as the existing research is, we simply do not have the body of work on emergent learning that characterizes so many other fields such as reading and mathematics, and this leaves social studies at a distinct disadvantage. Further, some of what we do know is rather disturbing.  Several recent studies of elementary teachers’ beliefs and values suggest that we need considerably more attention to teachers’ ideas about the purpose of social studies instruction and about their beliefs regarding children’s intellectual abilities and so-called “moral” needs. In sum, we need considerably more research on the variety and complexity of social studies teaching and learning in elementary classrooms if we are ever to speak with conviction about this aspect of the social studies.

World History. Although history remains one of most-researched areas of social studies, relatively little attention focuses on world history, either as instructional content or as a context for student thinking—this despite increased attention among historians (i.e., Dunn, 1999; Manning, 2003; McNeill & McNeill, 2003). Newer approaches to world history emphasize the analysis of patterns across time and place rather than smaller-scale nation-state histories, or histories organized primarily around Western chronologies. How, though, do students and teachers make sense of this kind of history?  Do patterns observed in the context of national history hold here? How does historical inquiry work when language differences make primary sources less accessible for students? What concepts most challenge students? (see Barton, Handbook)

Gender and Sexuality. Decades of commentary and critique regarding gender(ed) representations in standards and curricula, literature and textbooks and tests, as well as a wealth of scholarship in history and the social sciences, argue for analysis of the intersection of gender, sexuality and social studies teaching and learning. After an initial burst of activity among social studies educators in the 1970s & 1980s, however, research on gender waned, and sexuality has never received sustained attention in the field.
Despite a recent upturn in research on gender (still with little movement in regard to sexuality), we lag behind other fields in seeing men as well as women as gendered, and gender and sexuality as complex rather than dichotomous, in using gender as an analytical lens in research as well as a subject of study, and in analyzing the gendered and heteronormative nature of schooling and of social studies as a profession. All of this suggests a rich field for researchers, with substantial groundwork already begun on gender, much needed on sexuality, and much to be learned from research in our sister disciplines in both areas (see Crocco, Handbook).
English Language Learning.  Meeting the needs of English language learners (ELL) challenges educators in a field as text-dependent and culture-bound as social studies tends to be (Cruz & Thornton, 2008; Pang,  2005).  Although there is a considerable literature on language acquisition, that work is not matched with research specific to social studies. If, for instance, language development for ELLs can be fostered by particular classroom climates, how can such practices be adapted to social studies? Might some curricula rely less on cultural knowledge than others? What kind of scaffolding best supports cultural adjustments, not just for the ELL students, but for first-language English speakers? In what ways does social studies promote social interaction, reduce hostility, prejudice, or discrimination—or effectively isolate ELL students? What differences occur in social studies learning in monolingual as opposed to multilingual settings? Few educational issues are as fraught with controversy as educating linguistically diverse student populations. Few are so deeply embedded in social studies’ commitment to civic engagement in a pluralist democracy. Yet we have too little research to help us with this crucial task.
Social Justice.  The term “social justice” describes a broad theme within social studies. Social studies educators tend, for instance, to argue for culturally competent/culturally conscious education and democratic discussion (especially in regard to controversial issues) as well as service learning aimed at issues of social justice.  In an area so fundamental to the purposes of social studies, however, we can only benefit from increased attention to how students and teachers identify and make sense out of issues of social justice and how they negotiate around these most challenging aspects of democratic life (see Bickmore, Handbook).
Visual Media.  Given the visual media available to social studies educators, and it’s often indiscriminant use, this emerging field of research is timely as well as innovative in some of its methodologies (Marcus, 2006). Scholars working in this area raise questions about the ways in which Hollywood films narrate race, class, and concepts such as freedom, how films are translated in classrooms, and how students make sense of often clashing images of people, ideas, and events.   Although much of the current scholarship is history-based, methodologies employed in these studies suggest rich possibilities for analysis of visual representations in other areas of the social studies. Given the “visual turn” of contemporary society, social studies educators need to know much more about the impact of images, both still and moving (Hariman & Lucaites, 2007).
Finally, there has been a move over the last several years to conduct research on teaching for inquiry. We have a number of fine studies of individual classroom contexts, but current interest in building a large scale sample is very rare in our field.3 This kind of collaborative effort is an exciting and challenging opportunity that could serve as a model for collaborations around other research questions. It has much to commend it, including the opportunity for younger scholars to collaborate with more experienced colleagues, to broaden our community of scholars well beyond meeting once or twice a year, and to provide an even more solid foundation for recommendations about high quality teaching and learning across the country.
As researchers we end most of our studies with a call for additional research. The few suggestions I’ve made barely scratch the surface of research opportunities. As will always be the case, we need to know more if we are to offer students worthwhile educational experiences. Continuing to build the empirical base for such an education may not land us on the sun, but, as Zora Neale Hurston suggests, it can certainly lift us off the ground.

1 Quotations Online 1 Apr. 2009. 10 May. 2009 http://einstein/quotes/with/keyword/exhorted/
2Readers interested in fuller descriptions of the existing research should refer to  Handbook chapters indicated in parentheses.
3A group of interested researchers have been meeting at NCSS. Anyone interested should contact John Saye (Auburn) or David Gerwin (Queens College).

Cruz, B., & Thornton, S. (2008). Teaching Social Studies to English Language Learners. New York: Taylor & Francis/Routledge.
Dunn, R. (1999). The New World History: A Teacher’s Companion. Boston: Bedford.
Gaudelli, W. (2002). World Class: Teaching and Learning in Global Times. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Hariman, R. & Lucaites, JL (2007). No Caption Needed: Iconic Photographs, Public Culture, and Liberal Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levstik, L.S. & Tyson, C. (2008). Handbook of Research on Social Studies. New York: Routledge.
Manning, P. (2003). Navigating World History: Historians Create a Global Past. New York: Macmillan.
McNeill, R. & McNeill, W. (2003). The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History. New York: Norton.
Pang, V.O. (2005). Multicultural Education: A Caring-Centered Reflective Approach. New York: McGraw-Hill.

English Language Learners and a Reconceptualization of Citizenship in the Social Studies Classroom


Cinthia Salinas                        
University of Texas at Austin

Barbara C. Cruz
University of South Florida

The growing cultural and linguistic diversity of our classrooms is an undeniable demographic imperative that prompts the recasting of teaching and learning in the years to come. For English language and immigrant learners in the social studies, perhaps the greatest challenge is the dominance of text, new vocabulary (both conceptual and abstract), and assumptions of prior knowledge. But having English language learners (ELLs) in the social studies classroom is also an opportunity to introduce ‘other’ --- and sometimes more sophisticated --- notions of citizenship into the teaching of the social studies.

Social studies teachers and teacher educators can with ease develop sheltered and inclusive approaches that provide greater access to content knowledge for second language learners. Simultaneously, social studies teachers and teacher educators can also with ease reconceptualize citizenship—embracing the idea that “in a democratic and multicultural society, students need to understand multiple perspectives that derive from different cultural vantage points” (NCSS, 2001). This two-prong approach will serve to secure the academic success of second language learners and ensure a participatory citizenry that is conscious of the dynamics of a pluralist nation state.

The instructional and linguistic challenges posed by the social studies have been well documented (e.g., Haynes, 2005; Short, 1994).  Fortunately, several existing models (e.g. Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994) and approaches (e.g., Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2000), as well as the work of social studies scholars (e.g., Cruz & Thornton, 2008; Salinas, Franquiz, & Reidel, 2008; Szpara & Ahmad, 2007) demonstrate how acquisition of academic language can be readily addressed by social studies teachers through the existing instructional approaches that typify good teaching in the field. Prevocabulary and vocabulary activities, visual representations of information (e.g. maps, photographs, and photos), graphic organizers, and realia (e.g. globes, artifacts) are essential to the teaching of the social studies and indispensable in helping English language learners make way through the cognitive load emblematic of the social studies. Teachers cognizant of the importance of these approaches make use of ELLs’ existing linguistic resources while simultaneously adding to their repertoire of metacogntive strategies.

A critical note regarding instruction is the need to facilitate English language learners’ reading, listening, writing, and oral language development. The listing of common strategies serves not only to convey large amounts of social studies knowledge, but also importantly develops those skills necessary for participation in the social studies classroom. A reading assignment, for example, comes only after a vocabulary activity or check for prior knowledge. Or photos of the United Farm Workers Movement, or other acts of civic participation, would preface listening to a speech by Dolores Huerta (which would be enhanced by providing a printed transcript of the speech to ELLs to lessen linguistic load). An emphasis on teaching and learning the social studies through reading, listening, writing, and speaking signals a differentiation in instruction that requires a more scaffolded approach to teaching.

Significant to this discussion is our second point --- the way in which the social studies in particular is impacted by growing diversity and the prior knowledge and experiences of English language learners. Young immigrant students represent the far-reaching impact of globalization and a unique opportunity to strengthen our understanding of democracy. Having experienced citizenry in other forms or having parents whose cultural and participatory knowledge differs from our own, immigrant students’ compelling, if not contrasting, perspectives can add depth and sophistication to class discussions in geography, history, economics, and citizenship. . Suddenly, our classrooms are transformed from monolithic renditions of what it means to be “American’ to what it means to be an American in a transnational world. The end result, as Parker (2003) explains, is not a loss of our identity but, rather, a richness that has always characterized our ongoing journey towards democracy.

Ultimately, the social studies mirrors the democratic values that are prominent in our society. Instructional strategies for English language learners are not only portals by which we can help diverse students access the social studies, but they are also opportunities for teachers and students to access and engage in multiple renditions of citizenship and consequently add to our own history as a democratic nation.


Chamot, A. U. and O’Malley, J. M. 1994. The CALLA handbook: Implementing the cognitive academic language learning approach. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co.
Cruz, B.C. and Thornton, S.J.  (2008).  Teaching social studies to English language learners. New York: Routledge.
Echevarria, J., Vogt, M. E., and Short, D. J. 2000. Making content comprehensible for English language learners. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Haynes, J.  (2005).  Challenges for ELLs in content area learning.  Everything, retrieved May 20, 2009 from
National Council for the Social Studies. (2001). Expectations of excellence: Curriculum standards for social studies.  Silver Spring, MD: NCSS.
Parker, W. C., (2003). Teaching democracy: Unity and diversity in public life. New York: Teachers College Press.
Salinas, C., Franquiz, M., and Reidel, M. (2008). Geography approaches for second language learners: Highlighting content and practice. The Social Studies, 99(2), 71-76.
Short, D.J. (1994). The challenge of social studies for limited English proficient students.  Social Education, 58(1), 36-38.
Szpara, M. Y. and Ahmad, I., (2007). Supporting English-language learners in social studies class. The Social Studies, 98(5), 189-195.


Cinthia Salinas is an Associate Professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. She does research on teaching and learning the social studies in late arrival immigrants, Latina/os, and bilingual/ESL contexts.

Bárbara C. Cruz is Professor of Social Science Education at the University of South Florida.  Her research and teaching interests include multicultural and global perspectives in education, social studies in teacher education, and Latina/o issues in education.

Social Studies in a Networked World


Michael J. Berson
University of South Florida

Keywords: digital technology, social studies, Web 2.0, democracy

With the election of President Barack Obama, our nation and the world have witnessed the sociopolitical influence of Web 2.0 digital technologies on our democratic process. Our political leaders have continued to optimize the use of networked sites such as YouTube, Twitter,  Facebook, and Blogs, maintaining a prominent presence on the web

While technology is a part of the current administration’s agenda, the field of social studies continues to evolve its relationship with technology, simultaneously touting its potential benefits and critiquing its limitations in facilitating social studies practice. It is critical for educated citizens in the 21st century to be engaged in activities that require them to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, creative visionaries, and accurate appraisers of benefits and risks. Digital materials are often utilized to structure inquiry learning processes that engage students in research, analysis, and interpretation of sources to understand the complexity of the past and the intricacies of social knowledge. Multimedia technology has enhanced the access to diverse resources that enrich the learning experience and provide an opportunity for students to not only visually examine archives of information, but also to engage in creative searches of resources so that themes can be explored, information can be manipulated, connections can be discovered, and students can synthesize resources with their expressive capabilities to transform their connection to the material. What often has been overlooked in this engaged approach to learning is the necessary step of instructing students to acquire a set of progressive skills that may guide their use of online resources, including technology skills, search techniques for accessing databases, and criteria for evaluating the content, presentation, and value of the information found. Firmly entrenching content knowledge into the curriculum is also necessary for disciplined inquiry.

Constructing effective technology-based activities is critical and necessitates knowledge of the content, available multimedia resources, and the ability to engage students in the inquiry process. Educators have been fascinated by the potential of technology to make our lives more enjoyable, more efficient, and more productive. New developments, such the Florida Virtual School’s offering of an American History course through gaming, are bringing history instruction to life. This mode of instruction is contributing to a dynamic modification of technology integration in which the classroom becomes a site of active learning and thinking, fostered by the technological resources available.

The integration of technology tools and resources into instruction has been accompanied by an interest in the power of technology to affect changes in social, civic, and economic functioning. Some of this impact has been beneficial to the construction of global connections among diverse people, while other components of technology diffusion have highlighted and accentuated inequities in access and quality of exposure.

The world of technological innovation evolves at a rapid pace. Therefore, preparation of students to accommodate the challenges of online interaction necessitate more than mere technical proficiency. A few resources that will introduce CUFA members to emerging and best practice in the field include Pockets of Potential ,
The Pew Internet & American Life Project, NetFamily News, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning and the National Council for the Social Studies Technology Position Statement and Guidelines


Berson, M. J., & Balyta, P. (2004). Technological thinking and practice in the social studies: Transcending the tumultuous adolescence of reform. Journal of Computing and Teacher Education, 20(4), 141-150.

Berson, M. J. (Ed.). (2006). Enhancing Democracy with Technology in the Social Studies [Special Issue]. International Journal of Social Education, 21(1).

VanFossen, P. J., & Berson, M. J. (Eds.). (2008). The electronic republic? The impact of technology on education for citizenship. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Michael J. Berson is a professor of social science education at the University of South Florida. He conducts research on global child advocacy and technology in social studies education. He can be contacted at .

Social Studies and Gender: A Glass Half Full?

Margaret S. Crocco
Teachers College, Columbia University, NY.

Keywords: Gender, social studies, equity

On March 11, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing a White House Council on Women and Girls (Swarns, 2009). In so doing, he took a stand on the so-called “boy crisis in education” (Strauss, 2008). In 2008, the American Association of University Women had released a report called “Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education,” which addressed the question of whether girls’ gains in education came at the expense of boys. The AAUW’s answer was a resounding “no.” The presidential executive order echoed the AAUW’s conclusions that, despite significant progress for women over the last several decades, they still earn only about 78 cents for every dollar men earn. Moreover, women lag behind men in representation in the so-called STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Still, the news isn’t all bad: Since 1982, women have earned 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees; they also outperform men in both high school and college grade point averages (Strauss, 2008). AAUW researchers found that race and ethnicity play a stronger role in educational achievement than gender.

In social studies, the picture is also mixed. The verdict about whether a gender problem exists depends on what is being measured and whether the judgment is rendered on the basis of an achievement gap or the broader question of equity (Crocco, 2006).

Let’s look for a moment at what we know in terms of a gendered achievement gap: Males outperformed females in NAEP history tests prior to 2000 (and we haven’t had a NAEP test in history since then). AP history tests show girls outperforming boys on the free response part but boys doing better on the multiple choice questions. In urban schools girls do better than boys on both. The IEA tests of civic knowledge show a similar pattern, although differences between girls and boys have grown smaller over time. On the Test of Economic Literacy boys perform better than girls. Geography tests indicate that boys surpass girls in geopolitical knowledge.  Much of this sort of research (Crocco, 2008) is more than 10 years old and needs updating. Moreover, too little social studies research reports the impact of gender, race, and class on the subject in question.

Gender equity advocates argue along these lines: If women are half the world’s population and thus have had half the world’s experiences, then why aren’t women’s lives better represented in the social studies curriculum? Feminist scholars criticize men’s history as “standing in” for women’s as if the two were isomorphic. Given the history of patriarchy, women’s experiences have been different and remain so today.

From an equity standpoint, the social studies remain a masculinist enterprise. History textbooks still tilt heavily towards telling the lives of elite, white men, as do civics and economic textbooks. Recent research suggests that progress in balancing American history and world history textbooks proceeds very slowly (Clark, Allard, & Mahoney, 2004; Clark, Ayton, Frechette & Keller, 2005). State standards and high stakes tests pay little attention to women.  A study by Christopher Holland (2009) of the presumably progressive state of New York indicates that current American and World History standards and Regents exams offer only token inclusion of a few notable women.

Nevertheless, research by Sam Wineburg and Chauncey Monte-Sano (2008) seems to indicate that Americans’ concepts of “famous Americans” include many women. The researchers asked 2000 high school juniors and seniors and 2000 adults in all 50 states to name 10 famous Americans who were not presidents or first ladies. Three of the top five—and six of the top 10—were women.

Linda Levstik (2009) takes up the question of what we know about teaching and learning women’s history in a new book I edited with historians Carol Berkin and Barbara Winslow called Clio in the Classroom: A Guide for Teaching U.S. Women’s History. Readers surely know that research into teaching history is among the most active areas of inquiry within the social studies today. Still, little research on this subject pertains to teaching women history or teaching women’s history.

By way of conclusion, I share a story about a recent conversation I had with a well-known editorial writer for the New York Times. After a freewheeling conversation that covered lots of ground, the topic turned to history. Ever betwixt and between, New Jerseyans share a craving for an identity that goes beyond the Turnpike, diners, shopping malls, and cookie-cutter suburbs. I asked him whether he knew that New Jersey’s women were the first in the United States to vote—between 1776 and 1807. He was shocked that, having grown up, been educated, and worked as a reporter in the state, he didn’t know this fact. He asked why he had never been taught this history. That’s a good question. So, social studies experts: Why not?



Berkin, C., Crocco, M.S., & Winslow, B. (Eds.). (2009). Clio in the classroom: Teaching U.S. women’s history. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clark, R., Allard, J., & Mahoney, T. (2004). How much of the sky? Women in American high school history textbooks from the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s. Social Education, 68, 57-62.

Clark, R. Ayton, K., Frechette, N., & Keller, P.J. (2005). Women of the world, rewrite! Women in world history high school textbooks from the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s. Social Education, 69, 41-47.

Crocco, M. S. (2006). Gender and social education: What’s the problem? In E.W. Ross (Ed.), The social studies curriculum: Purposes, problems and possibilities 3rd ed. (pp. 171-193), Albany: State University of New York Press.

Crocco, M. S. (2008). Gender and sexuality in the social studies. In Levstik, L. & Tyson, C. (Eds), Handbook of research in social studies education (pp. 172-197). New York: Routledge.

Holland, C. (2009). Teaching beyond the Required Curriculum: New York City Teachers’ Struggle to Include Women’s History. M.A. Thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Levstik, L. (2009). What educational research says about teaching and learning women’s history. In Berkin, Crocco, & Winslow (Eds.), Clio in the classroom (pp.281-297). NY: Oxford University Press.

Strauss, V. (2008). No crisis for boys in schools, study says: Academic success linked to income. The Washington Post, May 20. A01.

Swarns, R. L. (2009). Obamas and Clinton honor women. The Caucus: The politics and government blog of The Times. March 11, 6:20 PM, accessed online on March 15, 2009 at

Wineburg, S. & Monte-Sano, C. (2008). “Famous Americans:” The Changing Pantheon of American Heroes. Journal of American History 94 (4): 1186-1203.

Margaret Crocco is Professor and Coordinator of the Program in Social Studies and Chair of the Department of Arts and Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she has taught since 1993. Prior to that, she taught in colleges in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Texas, and, for eight years, at a high school in New Jersey.